This hotel off an interstate is a posh one. I am composing in the living room of a suite and anthony is off in another room doing morning stretches before we dress, for a funeral. Down the road, Gertude Larkin, known as Aunt Jack to her friends and family is lying dressed in white, with a tiara on her head. I am told she looks beautiful. I do not look at the dead. I stayed in the house when my brothers and sisters "viewed" my mother five years ago; I will make meals, clean, drive guests, fetch, manage and organize, but the invitation to the funeral home, soundly rejected My mother had dancing grey eyes, silver curls around a wide smooth face. We have the same nose. That's my picture of her.
I met Aunt Jack only once, when she was 106 years old. Born in 1900, she would be 109 in January. People are sad, they knew it was coming, but always later, later. Edith, who is her neice, is brinking exhaustion after whirlwinded into making the arrangements, calling everyone, and being the answer-woman to everyone's questions, and yet she has tables covered with food, her make-up perfectly masqued, her hair sculpted.
At one point six children circle her as she sits at the table with the tv that is always on. One of the seven year old girls ask, "why do they drain the blood?"
"They have to honey, so the body can return to dust, we are made of dust." She quotes the Bible, reminding me of the Ash Wednesday ceremony of thumbprinting our heads, to remind us our lives are temporary, we have little time on this earth, make the most of it.
"I'm sad," another girl says.
They are at bit unsteadied by the tears around them, the sullen faces; the business that can't include children.
Aunt Jack had 108 years, she didn't have voting rights for sixty of those years. She saw two centuries turn (although she wasn't aware of one), and she would have seen the man who would become the first black president--at least we are counting on it. For folks like Aunt Jack.
And all those days, how do we spend them, what purpose can we have in a life that is so long? It is like magic to wake up one day after another and have luxuries like hours to work, read, love, argue, dance, imagine, practice and pass wisdom onto other. I don't worry that I won't have long days, although I try to keep part of me ready; I worry about squandering the hours--too much work, not enough breathing clear air; too much purpose, not enough dreaming; too much dreaming and not accomplishing enough to make my life worth mention. And then the days seem short. Frantic
But today I'm thinking about dust, the temporariness of life and how much time we have. I pull on my skin and remember that it is an organ, like the heart, alive and pulsing:
What do I make of my dust
This crisp cloak that someday
Returns to the earth, how do
I measure the weight
Of my granules feel the shifting
Toward death arched along
My neckline crossing my chest
Looping rib and vertebrate
My heart beats a ripple across
The skin the lung inflate/deflate
This crust softened by fine hairs
And expensive lotions nerve
Fibers violining a restless music
Down my legs mounting joints
And skiing shins, ankles and feet
The aliveness of its hunger
Undercover, not insisting attention
Like eyes tongue and feet
And yet I feel its dust the desert
Composition canyon and mesa
Alive and dead at the same time
And what does this make me
Element upon element mineral
Mixed with platelets and papillae
Am I a mountaintop above tree
Line pulling my roots toward
Nourishment or an arroyo
Sunk into the abdomen
the sedimentary pelvis
of the desert. How do I stir
my earth into life?
This dust: here at the end
Of my fingertips shivers a cold
Anxiousness. Pulls toward
The sun to water to lupine
Begging for a nourishment
That only I can give in my wish
For a remarkable life.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports