Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Soul's High-Lilac Time

I'm getting re-married in several days.  My family, and the family of the bride, is coming in from out of town.  The link to Russia isn't so great:  my brother, having just moved to Georgia, is travelling directly from the territory of the former U.S.S.R. to be here with me on this special day.  I've asked him to bring a Georgian poem for the ceremony.

And it was in Russia that my fiancee and I became serious about one another.  And how can one not be serious, when one is travelling on the Neva, staring at Falconet's Bronze Horseman?  If my lovely, wife could compete with Russia of her share of my attention, wasn't that the essence of love?

My in-laws are coming to town too, all the way from Tunisia.  I've never met them before, and we have no common language:  I can only wonder whether this fact will help or hurt our relationship.

Tomorrow, the madness of entertaining guests begins.  I'm happy.  I've never loved someone so much as I love my wife to-be.  She's lovely, intelligent, and supremely wise.

The wedding is basically planned. Today, I am sitting silently, writing wedding vows, rifling through a stack of Russian poetry books, and trying to listen to the silence around me.  That silence is hard to hear.  Most days, the kids, the television, and daily errands make the silence impossible to hear, which is unfortunate, because silence is the matrix of cosmic living and the stuff of poetry. However, it's easy to see why people avoid silence.  Silence can be enlightening, but it can also be terrifying, overpowering, and awful.  When are we truly ready to face life, existence, the gods, or even ourselves?

Mandelstam wrote:

"Nobody knows what silence is.
Silence is words and music.
It's the thing that links all things alive,
the link that lasts forever.

Let me open my mouth and let nothing come out,
Silent as an unborn baby.
Let me be a perfect crystal note
that lasts forever!

Do nothing, love, don't ever change.
Change only words to music.
And let my heart of hearts grow still
as a life I can barely remember!"

Two days ago, I began preparing for the union with my fiancee in earnest by seeking approval for the marriage from my departed mother.  With a conference in Rockford, Illinois, I remembered that my mom's surrogate mother lived there too.  I hadn't seen her in years but called her up and, at the age of 92 (her husband was no less than 96), she opened wide the doors of her house to me.  I felt as if the grave had opened up to me, or that, like Orpheus, I had been allowed to walk down to Hades to bring back my dear, departed mother, if only for a half an hour.

We talked at length about my "great aunt's" daughter, son, and grandchildren, and about her seventieth wedding anniversary celebration, to which she wore her original wedding dress.

We also talked, of course, about my mother.  Her memories are happy ones, but they become tinged with my tragic framework as soon as I hear them.  Grace's "play mother" recalled how she lost her own mother at age three, but that she "did remember her."  What kind of memory a three year old could have is impossible to tell.  Certainly she never told me a thing about her mother, except for a few stray details she had learned from family members.

When Grace was eight, she lived with her father, her younger brother (born only weeks or perhaps a few months before his mother's death from cancer), and family friend and caretaker.  Unfortunately, my mother didn't get along with that caretaker:  my mother's "Aunt" told me that Grace soon asked if Grace could come to live with her.  It's hard to imagine how a father could part with his daughter but it happened, if only briefly.

Following Sergei Yesenin's poem, Letter to My Mother:

"Ah, old lady, are you still alive?  I am, and I give you welcome.  May this unearthly evening light Flood down on the old home."

Grace's "aunt" shared other memories with me, including a family vacation with Grace that involved raine and a bad case of lice, a trip to see Grace's graduation from Radcliff, a conversation about Grace's love affair (with my dad), and, her attendance at Grace's funeral and visitation.  She could still recall, twenty-five years later, what she was doing when she got the bad news:  she was moving.

The memory that struck me most was that Grace's "uncle" had also married her.  It struck me dumb to think that it might still be possible for him to marry me all these years later.  At the age of 96, Grace's "uncle" had already, it seemed, sanctified my marriage the following week.

On the way home to Indiana my nostalgia must have overwhelmed me, because I found my car veering off the interstate highway toward LaGrange, to the site of the home I had lived in as a teenager, no more than two years after my mother's death.  This house was now on sale, for the first time since my father and stepmother had sold it over a decade previously.  Being on sale, I could review the photos online.  The house was smaller than I remembered, and the new owners and uncovered some wood floors, built a deck, knocked out a kitchen wall, and refinished at least part of the basement.  All in all, it wasn't the home I remembered.  I wondered at whether the new owners understood that I still lived there in some way, and always would.

Driving through LaGrange, I think about how my age now, on the even my second marriage, so closely resembles that of my mother on the eve of her death at age 45.  This town, and its sister town--the place of my mother's last words, LaGrange Park, isn't so different from the way it was when she died.  There's a Chipotle now, a Trader Joe's, and a Pier one:  but the main drag, LaGrange Road, isn't a stranger.  The train is still there.  The local "hobby shop" too.  As Alexander Blok once wrote:  "Live five, ten, fifteen years more--Nothing will change. There's no way out.  Die, you only start all over, and it's all the same as before;  Night, ice in the dark gutter, the street, the street light, the store."

Grace's uncle told me he remembered one of the last things she said to him in November 1984, a month before she died.  "I would be okay," she said, "if this pain in my back would just go away."

The wedding is in six days.  I've written the vows.  I have ruminated on the past.  I will prepare for the future.  But it's this silence that unites everything, and diminishes the distance between past, present, and future.  And it's Russian poetry that gets me in touch with this unity.

Some random snippets from an afternoon of reading and contemplation:

Vladimir Maykovsky

"Let Time tear past
like rockets shells
blazing in the ar!"

"Our planet was poorly designed
for happiness
We must snatch delight from days to come."

"I want the silver of years made very clear.
I hope, I believe, I will never attain
the same of common sense."

"Look at the heavens!
A night-time shakedown
and the sky pays off in stars.
The whole wide world is still.
It's times like these you want to talk
to Time, to History, and to the Universe.."

Marina Tsvetaeva

"Seryhozha dear...dear boy...
Let's light the fuse
that will blow up Paradise!"

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