Well before daylight, in the sublime quiet, reading the letters of a thoughtful young man who later lost his life in the Civil War at the age of twenty-nine: Charles Russell Lowell, nephew of the great writer and poet, James Russell Lowell.
Then, suddenly, raindrops — so few in number it reminds me of my mother sprinkling water on her ironing.
June 26, 2019
The Sunlight on My Mother’s Face
These soft, newborn leaves remember the sunlight that warmed
my mother’s face, they bear the scent of soap and sweat and meals
rising from her skin, they recall the rough broom in her hand,
the mirror she wiped clean to reveal her sweet astonished childhood,
her father splitting wood with his patient care-worn axe,
her mother’s tired back, her wood stove, pies, and peaches,
the sparrows in the trees outside, barking dogs, tramps at the door,
hard green plums in spring, honey-white alyssum crowding the walk,
flour on the floor, fragrance, sound, voice, bone, spirit,
a soot-filled rail car bringing letters home, a lullaby for children
sleeping in their graves, a song for wise old men who have forgotten
their best friends’ names.
Who remembers everything? One clear moment is enough,
distilled by warm hands and taken from a cup, cradled by the tongue,
whispered, swallowed, praised, sung, nourishing the blood,
calling from the marrow, an orange-scented breeze, the hum of bees,
nerves, fingertips, muscles, toes, a solemn recitation of what no one knows.
One clear moment is enough, for the petal of the rose pressed soft against
a young girl’s lips, for the story composed by the drama of her senses,
of a brave ship lost while still in sight of home, her mad crew guided
by unknown constellations.
Now she is eighty-three, and the sunlight on her face remembers me.
It remembers the boy I have been and will never be again, caresses the lines
and fences with eyes blind to my disgrace, inscribes a message on the wind,
seeks, blesses, grieves, attends, ceaseless in its toil, eager to begin,
the sunlight on my mother’s face remembers me.
Songs and Letters, March 21, 2005
The Painting of You, Author’s Press Series, 2009
Tags: Aging, Books, Charles Russell Lowell, Diaries, Family History, Ironing, James Russell Lowell, Journals, Memory, My Mother, My Mother's Father, My Mother's Mother, Old Books, Rain, Reading, The American Civil War