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Four moon poems, and thoughts about my mother, who is ill


          Always carry a little bottle of air of the moon, to keep you from drowning.

               A medicinal poem, mending by draughts: The Moon, by Jaime Sabines

I'm flying on a plane to Denver. I was lucky to get a seat. I was on standby, because my flight from Eureka was canceled due to weather. I meet a man going towards the lavatory, who says that he gave up his seat, to collect on an offer of four hundred dollars from the airline. Then, somebody else didn't arrive in time, and he still got to board the airplane.I keep myself occupied by reading Small is Beautiful, by E. F. Shumacher, and I am alternatively inspired and moved. So many of his ideas and his assertions make sense to the political discussions today, which despite all the rancor, follow along the same lines that Shumacher described, back in the nineteen seventies. In Denver, my mother is in the Swedish Hospital, surrounded with medical machines. She is unable to breathe very well, and for a while she cannot swallow. My sister and I are both flying in, to join my brother, and to see her, for fear that she will be unable to recover. She has had a stroke.

Shumacher cites a historian who asserted that the Roman Empire collapsed not because of barbarian invasions, or environmental sickness, but because they lost faith in their fundamental values. That is the problem with society today. We are unable to agree what values are the most important. In the “science” of Economics, profitability becomes the only criterion for judging the worth of any activity. For Shumacher, this is completely short sighted: the value of the workplace is not the material goods which are created, but it is the life that is created for the people who work there, that really matters.

The air is cold and dry, and the light of the sun illuminates the land with a beauty which is not always seen from high altitudes. The color of the lagoons, the green fields, the deep blue of the ocean-- all of these assault my senses when I look out the window. When Shumacher's ideas were popularized, laws were being enacted to protect the air and water from pollution. He decried the attitudes of businessmen who complained that it was harmful to the economy to make them comply with government regulations. Now, all the laws which were passed in that era are being directly challenged politically, and most of the existing regulations have been compromised by the crippling of enforcement, and the intrusion of corporations into the regulatory structure itself.

For a while Shumacher was inspired by Buddhist philosophy. He believed that an economics could exist in which altruism has a place, and that right-mindedness could govern the decisions of our business leaders. Why should anyone invest in commodities of wheat and corn, when it causes people in third world countries to face starvation? I read in the New York Times lately that a psychological test was given to people employed in the stock brokerages, and the results indicated that many of  these men were, morally speaking, psychopaths.

                  This like a dream
                  Keeps other time,
                  And daytime is
                  The loss of this;

                  This Lunar Beauty, by W.H. Auden

Seeing mother for the first time, I am completely shaken.  She is not at all as I thought I would see her. She is so weak, so exhausted. But she has improved greatly, we are told. She is partly delirious, but off and on, she seems to attend to what we say to her. Her eyes seem to have lost all their depth. Her hair is a mess, but somehow beautiful. I brought some photographs that I found in one of her scrapbooks, which she started creating when she was quite young, and continued all the way through her college years. There is a photograph of her grandfather, who died shortly after I was born, holding the hand of her cousin, Betty Jean. She doesn't seem to react to it. In another snapshot made with a Brownie camera, she is wading with her two sisters in a mountain lake. My brother remarks that she will be able to do back flips tomorrow, and mother makes a short laugh.

The nurse brings in her food, which is all liquified and gelled, and we take over with the meal. She hasn't eaten in days, and has an appetite. We ask her to hold a spoon, and she is able to hold it and feed herself a few bites. My sister holds a glass to her lips, and she is able to drink from it. She is very tired. She starts mumbling disturbing and cruel thoughts, and we can see that we have been overworking her. We leave, but we are all amazed at how she is still holding on, despite the trauma she has suffered.

When I was a child, my parents tried to get me to eat asparagus. I always refused. Once they insisted that I take just one bite, and I threw up. A few days later, my mother took me out in the fields around our house. There were not many houses then. She showed me places not far away where wild asparagus was growing. Later on, when the family was served asparagus, I tried it, and told my parents. “Gee! Asparagus tastes pretty good! I like asparagus!” There were a few other plants that grew wild in the plain above the river that they once called “The Bench” that is,when my parents were children. Plums grew everywhere, and they claimed it was a native plant that the local Indian tribes knew. Sometimes we would go for a picnic out on sandstone flats outside of town, the place was called Moon Valley. There were artifacts, such as grinding stones, still laying on the ground. When driving down a gravel road, the car might startle a herd of antelope, which amused us, their white bottoms bouncing up and down.

                         Compassion springs from the heart,
                         as pure, refreshing water,
                         healing the wounds of life.

                        Contemplation,  by Thich Nhat Hanh

My brother's house is a spacious, modern house with vaulted ceilings and clearstory windows, and set in a large open lot next to a lake and a large natural area. It is also close to shopping and thoroughfares connecting it with downtown Denver. They recently bought a dog, and he barks at me loudly, but I understand dogs, even though I don't own one. I scratch him under the collar, and later on, I find the dog's ball, and play with him. My brother's children, two sisters, are both in college, and seldom are home. The dog craves for attention. They have the dog enrolled in a kindergarden for dogs, three days a week. He gets a report card. My father had a wonderful dog when he was a child. It was a border collie, partly, and was very intelligent. My mother also had a dog, I found out from studying her photographs, but she had never said anything about the dog. When I was graduated from the University of Montana, I bought an Old English Sheepdog. He was so large, I had to bribe him by buying a steak once a week, cutting it into long strips, and feeding it to him, one after another. Then he would obey me, even though he knew he didn't have to. I took him into the mountains, and if I became thirsty, I would follow the dog. Once, he found a meadow in the forest that was carpeted with a thick layer of grass, and a deep rivulet ran through the meadow. Along the banks, I found columbines as large as my hands, and mushrooms shaped like cups, full of nectar. He stopped along this route, once in a while, to make me see what he had found. Such as: barely visible wallows, where the deer had slept. Dogs are magic. Researchers have studied the phenomenon that dogs seem to help children to be more sensitive to the feelings of others.

The next day, we saw Mom at a new location. She had been transferred to a rehabilitation center, which resembled a luxurious hotel, where she would receive treatment to restore her partial paralysis, and hopefully, her ability to walk. We found her in one of the several dining areas, which resembled coffee shops, seated in a wheelchair, unattended. My father was with us, and he held her hand, and struggled to listen to her voice, as he is almost deaf. She was unable to raise her voice, so my brother's wife interpreted for us. My father uses a walker, but he reads quite a bit, even though he doesn't talk very much any more. His library is full of heady theological and philosophical works. My parents were divorced for over thirty years. We never got along with his second wife, for she would always make it painful for him to do anything with us. She developed anorexia, but refused to enter into any kind of treatment. She was so unstable that we had to put Dad into assisted care to rescue him from her. Her son hired a lawyer to find a way to have her treated against her will, but before this could be accomplished, she died. She also accidentally set the house on fire. All this, within one year. My brother took Dad with him to Colorado. Soon after that, my father called Mom, and asked her if she would join him. She immediately agreed to reunite with him. Before we leave mother, Father George, a very pleasant and intelligent Episcopal priest, arrives. He brings with him chrism, and administers Extreme Unction.

                     The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
                      The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
                     The moon is my mother.

                     The Moon and the Yew Tree,  by Sylvia Plath

On the trip back, I look over Humboldt Bay, which is resplendent with the light of the late afternoon sun, surrounded with a vast expanse of segmented clouds. On the eastern horizon, the moon is full, and rises before the sun sets. I search the waves for whales, but I don't see any. It is a small aircraft, and it waddles back and forth and up and down, but suddenly seems still just as the plane lands. The thought of death, I mean, my own death, has always been terrifying to me. One night, unable to sleep, I entertained the notion that I would not wake up the next day. I put all my concerns in a larger picture, and allowed myself to accept that my life had not been perfect or exceptional in any respect, but that I was satisfied with it, and allowed myself to let go of it all. I don't know if my quasi-death experience will help me later on, or if I will be able to face my own real death with the same conquest of fear.

I really felt that it was important to see my mother. She thanked us. It is right that we came, and gathered around her, even though she was not dying.

The four moon poems may be read together at: