I have this memory.
One of those wiping in circles with your sleeve at the grime on the window memories.
I am in it, but of course, i don’t see myself, and no matter how wide i rub the circle
i don’t appear. No matter how wide i wipe the circle, the moments before
the memory and the moments after the memory don’t come into focus.
But it is a vivid memory with particular adjectives that weren’t important
at the time. One of them being “old”: more than old, “weathered,” even “ancient” perhaps, but not obsolete.
That is for the woman who sits in the chair in front of me.
Old – but in a magnificent way – when oak tree shades acorn.
The chair, too, is old, but sturdy. It’s a masculine chair, with wide flat arms
and rockers planed from oak. Substantial.
The chair and the woman greet each other with the same sound
each time they meet. The woman is substantial. She is like oak.
The wood floor has wide planks too. The luster is that of satin.
On it, in front of the chair and the woman, is a white basin full of water.
It has a thin, shiny red rim. In the yellow-orange of early evening sun the water
is tinged the pale peach of the insides of mollusk shells.
I can see out the window behind the woman the bare bronzed shoulders of boys.
Their bouncing black hair flapping as they dart past the glass like birds.
I can hear their laughter and whooping.
She speaks. I look into her face. It is windswept and lined. When i have the memory
i remember lingering in these particular seconds, rapt: the path, perhaps, i followed
next to the lake; the cliff side i would scramble complete with crags and fissures,
safe havens to secure my toes and fingers; the bark of the sugar maple
with all of its stories, sweetness, and wisdom.
She unlaces her boots. This adjective, “muddy,” and the noun, “mud,” I know – but
they are in the wrong place. These were not allowed in the front room i knew.
But here, as the boots drop to the floor, layers of clay chunk and sliver off
and no one shouts.
She laughs, and speaks to me.
I remember feeling. A little bit conspiring.
When she slides her feet into the basin
the entire day laps around us
while tendrils of smoking sweet grass spiral the low ceiling.
My father appears.
He moves across the wide planks where the setting sun has sent shadows of leaves
to dance the night in. He places irises bound with cattail in her arms. He brushes
silvery strands of hair from her temple. Then he bends down and presses his cheek against hers.
They look at me.
Four eyes and two mouths; but one face.
She says something in the language they share and he agrees with a word i know means “truth.”
And then they smile.
i feel. myself smiling. i feel this part of the memory braided in one thousand parts
of me like the sweet grass and the time it took to grow and harvest
to be tenderly gathered into the aged hands that keep it from wasting withering dying
and the seconds of the day that yearn for all the seconds of the day –
that make a memory succulent, enduring, and whole – to gather.
My father says something more and so does she and they laugh.
In my memory the laughter is beautiful and almost
because in their eyes
is something marvelous and i realize
that it is me.
i look down at the water in the basin arcing in graceful circles from the occasion
of her strong ankles
and their pleasure.
Then my father lifts me and from over his shoulder i watch the old woman smiling up at me,
rocking, nodding, bending her fingers good-bye as he carries me
from the room.
I have this memory.
There is no one to share this memory with that is in the memory
and so no one that can tell me if this is my memory
or a memory of my father’s told to me, or a memory of all the fathers
and the great grandmothers and the sons and great granddaughters. But as i sit
here in my rocker, my feet soaking in the white enamel basin with a strong red lip
that i found at the thrift store,
i want to share it with you. Because.
We can’t always choose the memories we keep, or the memories we lose, or wish to.
But we can choose the memories we give.
As you are carried off toward necessity or afternoon or sleep
peering over your own or someone else’s strong shoulder
i hope i have polished the glass lucent enough for you to know. Somehow.
This is your memory too.