After a long, complicated illness, my mother passed away. For the first time in my life, I find words wholly inadequate. I love her. I miss her. I hear that this never really goes away, and in a sense I hope it never does.
My mother was a great reader. She’s one of the few people I knew who could quote poetry at will for any occasion. Her favorite poet was Enda St. Vincent Millay. When I was younger, I didn’t “get it.” I thought her writing was precious because often she rhymed. Poets, REAL poets, threw convention out the window! Screw sonnets! I immersed myself in Ferlinghetti and e.e. cummings, smoked cigarettes, and was generally tragic.
Then one year for my birthday my mother gave me a Millay biography, and her own copies of Millay’s works that she’d purchased in 1965. She and my father had just become engaged, and would be married a year later. Even at the time, I considered this one of the best presents I’d ever received.
I was reading my mother’s books when I learned that she was gone.
Excerpt from Interim, by Enda St. Vincent Millay
The room is full of you!—As I came in
And closed the door behind me, all at once
A something in the air, intangible,
Yet stiff with meaning, struck my senses sick!—
Sharp, unfamiliar odors have destroyed
Each other room’s dear personality.
The heavy scent of damp, funereal flowers,—
The very essence, hush-distilled, of Death—
Has strangled that habitual breath of home
Whose expiration leaves all houses dead;
And wheresoe’er I look is hideous change.
Save here. Here ’twas as if a weed-choked gate
Had opened at my touch, and I had stepped
Into some long-forgot, enchanted, strange,
Sweet garden of a thousand years ago
And suddenly thought, “I have been here before!”
You are not here. I know that you are gone,
And will not ever enter here again.
And yet it seems to me, if I should speak,
Your silent step must wake across the hall;
If I should turn my head, that your sweet eyes
Would kiss me from the door.—So short a time
To teach my life its transposition to
This difficult and unaccustomed key!—
The room is as you left it; your last touch—
A thoughtless pressure, knowing not itself
As saintly—hallows now each simple thing;
Hallows and glorifies, and glows between
The dust’s grey fingers like a shielded light.
There is your book, just as you laid it down,
Face to the table,—I cannot believe
That you are gone!—Just then it seemed to me
You must be here. I almost laughed to think
How like reality the dream had been;
Yet knew before I laughed, and so was still.
That book, outspread, just as you laid it down!
Perhaps you thought, “I wonder what comes next,
And whether this or this will be the end”;
So rose, and left it, thinking to return.
Perhaps that chair, when you arose and passed
Out of the room, rocked silently a while
Ere it again was still. When you were gone
Forever from the room, perhaps that chair,
Stirred by your movement, rocked a little while,
Silently, to and fro…