Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Birthday

My mother was born on this day in 1918. She died just over two years ago. In the top photo she's on the right, standing next to her sister Moira. They were the eldest in a family of seven. Moira died not long before my mother (about a year or so) at 95.

I took the middle photo while on holiday with her in 2001. That's another sister, Nuala, on the right (under the sunhat). I have my cousins to thank for urging me to take this holiday, something I should have done far more often with her. Though it became a nightmare towards the end of those two weeks (9/11 took place and Nuala had a stroke on the day we departed), the first week was something of an idyll.

The lower photo was taken on the day before her last birthday in 2011 (she was going into the nursing home the next day for her two week 'intermittent stay').

I think about my mother every day: amalgam of memories, a presence at once both vivid and vague, the vitality she lost as she grew older and more dependent, the pain she went through increasingly with osteoarthritis ('singing in my bones' as she'd say).

I had remembered this was her birthday up till yesterday. This morning, I must have had other things on my mind because it didn't hit me till the early afternoon. Nuala's birthday was on the 10th of March and I regularly muddled the dates, so that might have had something to do with it.

Her siblings are almost all dead now, apart from her older brother Dermot, whom I spoke to not long ago. He's in his nineties and apparently in good health.

There's a poem I was working on till I abandoned it recently. I'll post the last draft here because it relates to my mother, but it's another person's memory of her, the younger brother Niall who died in November 2012. On our way back from yet another funeral (Nuala's) Niall told me about this, hence the title:

Something My Uncle Said

Not long before he died, following my mother
and her sisters, he passed me this blurry memory,
somewhere in England –– Liverpool? ––
he is a schoolboy getting off the train

to change for another, the one
that will take him home to Burnham on Sea
(for one of those holidays that are made for 
rhapsodising, squinting back along the tracks
at Shangri-La filmed through a Vaselined lens).

His older sister, my mother, is there to meet him
and see him safely home –– guardian
who will takes him walking on the dunes
and reads him Winnie The Pooh and AA Milne.

I didn’t ask whether he finds her immediately or
has to look for her, because
something else is there too, off to the side,
the soundtrack he will carry with him through the years:
relentless thunder of bombs and presumably sirens,
the war I only ever heard of or saw in films.

An extra, I keep coming to that station
to stand among the noise and clots of steam
and the too-close sounds of something else, out
of my world, punching great industrial holes
in the ordinary noises of a city,
making me search harder for a face
milling among the faces on the platform,
blank, intent or bewildered as my own.