On this, the last day of 2016, I wish all my readers the hope and strength to carry us through the new year.
Thank you for your love, friendship, support, comments, and for allowing me to dream.
Proust was a man of many words.
If you could say it in five,
He’d say the same thing in 50,
and I loved every line.
So often, I find myself
staring at the empty page
seeing a polar bear
in a blizzard eating snow.
My words become
Signaling in the night;
only to disappear
as I draw close –
twisting my ankles
on the roots of despair.
Hats off to you, Marcel.
It took you 54 pages
to give your mother
a kiss goodnight and
It took me 30 years to read
Remembrances of Things Past.
I suppose somewhere in
the Universe, that makes us
Just one thing before you go
back on the shelf–
May I borrow your pen?
NOT A PHOTO OF MARCEL PROUST:
The photo is of my great-great-grandfather, John George Stubenbord (1844-1914). He was 27 when Marcel Proust was born, and from the buzz handed down in the family, he was a good man. i have no idea how many words he’d have used to describe my poem.
A beloved member of my family has dementia. For him, and for those of us around him, this presents odd moments of beauty, as well as moments of reflection.
For example, when we’re driving somewhere, each of us in the car is called to examine the clouds, their beauty, their meaning, and (it’s unspoken but hard to avoid,) our own meaning.
It’s like when we were kids, flat on our backs in the field, watching the sky change, nudging and kicking each other, betting who could see a movie star in the sky, first. As for me, I never saw anything. I never saw the angels breathe into me the love that would carry me forth. I only see the beauty of the clouds, in their singularity, and in their entirety.
The photo is mine, copyright 2016, Virginia Galfo
My grandmother, Jean Castrovinci, was the first teacher in our family. She graduated from Jersey City Normal School (now New Jersey City State University) in 1927, and taught in PS 14, in the Greenville section of Jersey City, for 31 years, retiring in 1970.
She passed from my touch on May 4, 1980, and I have never stopped missing her.
Jean inspired her two daughters, three of her six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren to enter the teaching profession. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me. I have nothing but admiration for the teachers in my family, and in my extended family (Barbara Aline). Kids scare the hell out of me.
Being a musician who loved poetry, my grandmother was especially encouraging. I recall us floating in a hotel swimming pool discussing the properties of a specific poem, and she suddenly started laughing. She looked at me, eyes twinkling, and said, “You and I are a couple of ‘longhairs.'” I had no idea what she meant, and she explained it was a term used in the 1920s to denote someone who was an intellectual. As in Longfellow, the poet.
My grandmother was very close to her two brothers, my uncles Frank and Noel. She loved her niece, Elaine, and nephew, George, and made sure my sisters and I were connected to that part of our family. I’m so grateful for that because we do share a bond today. My cousin, Corrine, is someone I know I can call at any time for any reason. And for that, my grandmother, (and Corrine’s grandfather, Noel,) would be proud.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I want to state simply that without the love of my grandmother, I would not be here, writing this blog post. She believed in me, she loved me, she encouraged me, and she expected me to achieve my highest purpose. She is the sole reason I’ve had the courage to carry on.
I wrote this untitled poem for her.
How often I heard the cardinals
Chirp, like they were chipping marble
As they flitted through
The rhododendrons in January.
I thought you would never go, that
We would have eternity to
Watch the flight of the cardinals
And comment on their calls.
But you went. Just as the cherry
Blossoms were bursting,
And the sky, like that particular
Tuesday, was incredibly blue.
All I can say now, three decades gone,
Is I would give all the beauty back
To Nature if I could see
Your red coat in the distance
Bending over the first crocuses of spring.
All my life, I’ve been waiting to burst through the door during the darkest winter night to the smell of someone baking cookies FOR ME. As the fall gathers the darkness into folds and Christmas approaches, part of me feels so hopeful and happy. I picture myself smelling the sweet air, dropping wet mittens behind me, peeling off boots and coats, and scarves, and hats, with no one instructing me on where to leave these snow-crusted garments. Just a joyful presence, who has never had a face, holding up a cookie pan saying, “These are for you!”
It’s a lovely dream, and as those days retreat into the backdated calendar, here comes slim and tidy February. Not too long, not too short, saying:
GO TO THE CORNER,
Twilight can stay
A few moments longer.”
The deciding day of February comes when I leave my office with the light in the western sky reaching up over its head into the endless darkness, telling me spring is coming. I know in an alternate Universe, whoever got stuck being me, is probably polishing off the last cookie.
Every summer, my grandparents took all of us to most of the kiddie attractions in North Jersey. We made the rounds from the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, to the Land of Make Believe in Hope, to Space Farms Zoo in Beemerville. (Let’s not forget Wild West City in Netcong, and Bertrand’s Island in Lake Hopatcong–they were on our route, too.) Those trips were a welcome respite from the ennui of hot, humid summer days–when there was no Internet, or 70 zillion movies to watch on demand.
I was thinking recently of a short tale my grandmother told me when I was about 16. I was nursing a broken heart over some teen-aged Lothario and she related a story she said came from her mother.
A girl is walking through the forest on a cold winter day. Suddenly, she hears a hiss and a voice calls to her pleading, “Won’t you pick me up and put me in your pocket? It’s so cold, I could die.” The girl looked down at a beautiful diamondback rattlesnake, and shaking her head, replied, “No, I can’t do that. You’ll bite me and I will die.” The snake begged and pleaded and wore on the girl’s conscience until she finally agreed. As she picked up the snake, it struck, hard and fast. “Why did you do that? You promised you wouldn’t,” she cried as she sank to the ground. As the snake slithered away, it said, “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”
I’ve thought of that story over the years, and the other night when I found the photo above, and I started to laugh. It pictures, me, my grandmother, and my two sisters at Space Farms. Where are we standing? In front of the Snake Pit, of course.
Luckily, the days of being charmed by snakes have safely passed for me–and I’ve given up wandering alone in the forest on a cold winter days.
Winter can be the loneliest time. Make sure you check on each other,
and on those who live alone.
I recently read that at the end, these three things are all that matter:
How much you loved;
How gently you lived;
And how gracefully you let go
of what no longer belonged to you.
Towards that result, I planted tulips for the coming spring. If they bloom, I will post photos here. Before the deer snack on them.
Photo (c) 2016 Virginia Galfo