When my first child was born, I was told to look in to his eyes, because he had so recently looked on infinity. Does looking in to a dying person’s eyes give the same view? What if that person is blind?
Poetry is how I process. Sometimes feelings are too big to fit in to prose. That doesn’t mean poetry written in emotional straits is necessarily good—far from it, and it can be the opposite. But it does mean, at least for me, that ordinary statements don’t suffice. They don’t draw out the pain as well as words that have been subjected to rules and strictures, held to higher standards. Sometimes poetry soothes because it forces one to take some critical distance from the subject, and in that space, healing happens, or begins to.
I visited my mother recently. She has paranoid schizophrenia, she is blind, and she lives in a convalescent center. When I walked in, she was sleeping, and she was so stiff and uncomfortable looking, she appeared frozen in death. I staggered, then realized she was only mimicking death—not yet moving on, but readying herself and me. She woke abruptly, shuddering at the sound of my voice, then calming at it when I began to sing.
Her eyes are blindness. What does she see? What can I see in them? Blankness, peace, a tabula rasa—pure potential. Perhaps that is a window to infinity. It’s not the face of angels I was told would be lingering in my son’s eyes, but it is the face of humanity reckoning, reflecting, readying.
It’s as if she’s caught between earth and ether, inhabiting neither completely. Here she is on a mountaintop, years ago, close enough to touch the sky.
After the Golden Years
She walks a line she doesn’t see;
She feels it vibrate in her mind.
On one side life, across it death—
She’s wheelchair bound and wholly blind.
It’s years now since she felt real fear,
Or threw her head back, laughing long.
Her days are numb now, mind’s sedate.
I speak to her in favorite songs.
“Too Ra Loo Ra” wakes her up.
“Scarlett Ribbons” slows her breath.
“Stardust” makes her arch her back
In rictus as she tries on death.
One day she’ll whisper to her soul,
And daughter’s dread will turn to awe.
I brush her hair back from her eyes
And sing her “Que sera sera.”