Reviewed by Stephen Carter
Mary Lythgoe Bradford
Dialogue Foundation, 2009
WE SEEM TO be magnets for beauty. Our childhoods are “cherry tree worlds” haunted by “twanging harpies,” and nourished by “string bean summers.” As we grow, “deep library treasures” take seed in our souls and whisper to us until we start producing our own morsels of story, wondering “what worlds are on the other side?” Scratching them into our own pages.
And then children spring from us. One child “carries secrets he hasn’t had time / to decode.” Another has a “butterfly blur / that flits across her face / and curtains her secret self.” The last “walks out alone, / his body enough to shelter him.”
Our senses are high during these years, inscribing our lives with deep color. But we can never be too aware, never too thirsty for experience that it won’t pass away without our knowledge. “Nothing in nature was meant to be sudden. / The sun takes all night to lift / The child takes all year to live.” And suddenly, we find ourselves asking “Please, send back my children. / I gave them away before I realized / They were not myself.”
We come to understand that more than anything, we want to bequeath to our absent children pearls containing the essence of everything we remember of them. Everything we gathered as we bathed their bodies, fed their bellies, suffered their injuries.
We want to give them blessings: “May your thoughts glide with the salmon . . . / May your feet ride the stones, / May your hands cup the light.”
WE SEEM TO be magnets for death. Eventually, our bodies no longer put on new strength or forge new abilities. They seep away, forget to heal, become honeycombed.
Once, “Eternity was everywhere, / the everlasting hills, / eternal marriage, / and eternal life.” But the uneternal life our bodies possess has a deep weight. It hangs from our strongest beams and our most delicate latticework, its gravity more and more pronounced as the years pass.
We ignore this pull for as long as we can, perhaps until we see a loved one succumb. “As if love / with its sorrowful sighing / could slow the decay of dry leaves.” Perhaps we see their “eyes like the sea receding from the shore where I am pleading for your release.”
And then we’re alone. We feel our bark becoming stringy, our “fruit drying as it drops, / leaves falling quickly.”
Perhaps we once “believed the Play could last forever if we played our part / in the rehearsed scheme of things.” But eventually, “Our brilliance blinks. Fame will rust and pall / as our clamoring crowd shrinks to an inglorious end.” Eventually “No one is waiting by the / phone for my call, / No one is putting me into a novel or a poem.”
What does an ending mean? More specifically, what does our ending mean. Is it something we should rage against? Or should we find a way to make it, if not a friend, at least a fellow traveler. After all, endings are what make a story resonate.
WE SEEM TO be magnets for words. They collect around us as we gather our life narrative. They collect around our children, our spouses, our friends and loved ones.
Lift your withered hands and feel
the rush of words push from below.
Lift your dying hands and write.
But eventually the words begin to disperse, until we are only left with a name and a few numbers carved in stone. Which will wear away. “Death eats first the succulent cells / and leaves the bright bones ‘til last.”
What broken-backed nag
will carry me
to the scribe
who waits to catch
the yearning words
in my last breath?