Friday, July 25, 2008

Solace

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is “solace”. This post turned out to be longer than I expected. If you don’t feel like reading to the end but like poetry, there are two poems near the end. They are in italics, making them easy to find if you just scroll down.

The beauty of the earth can be solace.

Where do I seek solace?

My answer to that has to be another question: “Solace from what?” Is it some small matter of neglect or careless words blown out of proportion by my injured feelings? In that case comfort food, even a single piece of chocolate, might be solace enough.

For the great griefs, though, such as the loss of a loved one, I have no single answer.

My mother telephoned one early morning in 1962 and, in a shaking voice, told us that, only a moment before, my father had died suddenly, shockingly, unexpectedly, and that she didn’t know what to do next. Otto and I started immediately to her aid. Otto drove with his left hand and with his other hand he held my hand tightly as the realization swept over me that my beloved father was dead. Otto was, as he always had been and still is, my first source of solace. But then came other sources of comfort: the gathering of shocked and sympathetic friends and family - Mother’s sister Emma, Daddy’s brother Bob, Daddy’s colleagues, Mother’s club friends. Then there was the fragrance of the bouquets that began arriving, the aching beauty of a sunny day in November, the poignant stories shared - even jokes told to leaven the sadness with laughter.

The sharpness of that first grief lessened but did not go away. I moved on to another source of solace: my writing. Sometimes in prose, sometimes in verse, what I write is like a dilution of grief that turns it into a sorrow, a nostalgia, that never disappears but which can dissolve into the music of Mozart or the vastness of the night sky.

I wrote this poem a few years after my father’s death as a part of a long prose memory of him called Sam’s Ranch
:

The Osage Orange Box
for my father, Allen Sterling, 1892-1962
Osage Orange is a woody elm-like tree
whose broad leaves line a porch-lined summer street
of Lawrence, Kansas, where my father grew.
It’s heart wood, golden when it’s freshly hewn,
reacts to light and turns dark love-green.

The lathe-turned box with neatly fitted top
is almost black with age. I find it where
it lies among my father’s things, relics
of a lifetime lived, already half forgotten
at bottoms of trunks, at backs of drawers and shelves.

On the base “A.S.” is whittled, dark on dark,
initials only legible to fingers
as interruptions in the swirl, the whorl
of blade mark guided by the spinning lathe.
The tightly-fitted top twists grudgingly.

The inner surface of the box itself
is olive green except its very floor
on which a photo image is clearly limned.

Light gold, dark olive, the boy - my father - smiles
with Kodak exactitude, sun-exposed
through snapshot negative to new-cut wood,
teen-aged huntsman holding his new rifle
possessively with studied nonchalance.

With care I press the fitted lid in place.
How photo-sensitive is Osage orange?
How many minutes, hours, days, would fade
my father’s likeness to an even green?
I dare not risk this further loss of him.

Encysted in a tomb of his own making
he stays forever young while darkness lasts.

Another death occurred a year later on November 22, 1963, that of President Kennedy. I felt it as a personal grief, somehow linked to my father’s death, and I wrote a whole flurry of poems as my first line of defense against it, once again turning to my writing as solace. I’ll quote only one of them here
:

Intransigence
Take this hideous razored grief
so sharp in every part,
its spines all tipped with poison
and pointed at your heart.

Muffle it with music,
rub it down with prayer,
thrust it out and close the door,
pretend it isn’t there.

Watch closely, though, for treachery
when handling it tomorrow;
a grief is very hard to tame
into a decent sorrow.

May your sorrows be few!

37 comments:

if said...

you are right Granny Smith ...different solaces for different reasons, thanks for sharing those touching verses!

Sweet Repose said...

I just popped over from Greyscale Territory and am glad I did. My Father just turned 80 and my thoughts of him leaving me are unimaginable at this time. But I have much to remind me of this wonderful man and the places my mind will go for solice from the alone.

Love your blog and will be back.

sharon

Lucy said...

oh Granny, you always manage to goosebump my arms!! And your posts can never be too long. Your writing flows so beautifully, I find I just want more.
You are So right about Solace coming from different sources for different reasons! wHy didn't I think of that? haha
Your poems are so lovely, and your dad must have been a very special father.

MuseSwings said...

Granny Smith!

Your poems are delightful
The apple of my eye
I so enjoyed my time with you,
I'm glad that I stopped by!

Cynthia

linda may said...

Very good post granny. I only thought of one angle to write about re; solace, but you are right there are many different methods to find it. My Dad also got a mention.

gautami tripathy said...

Very beautifu post, Granny. I loved this..

anthonynorth said...

You're so right regarding solace. For me, it is so often a good book.

Autrice DelDrago said...

Thank you for sharing the touching tribute to your father. Solace can be fleeting, or enveloping. I am so glad that you had people there to comfort you.

AscenderRisesAbove said...

a very sad post; very different kinds of solace. Always a treat to stop by and read how you make us think and feel deeply

Beaman said...

I'm glad you commented on my site, so I could visit here and meet a wonderful poet. What talent you have.

Both poems are rich in meaning and their structures so wonderfully assembled.

I saw the photograph of your father in an earlier post. A handsome man.

I would be delighted if you would write a poem for my weekly poetry prompt on my website.

Beaman said...

I'm Edward from www.penmeapoem.com by the way. I keep forgetting I use my blog id by mistake sometimes.

Devil Mood said...

Are you kidding? Your posts are never too long, it's so easy to get lost reading them, lost in a good way.
It's wonderful that you found that writing poetry helped you cope with grief.

Tammy said...

Phyllis,
Your poetry is stunning and oozing with heart.


I'm slowing down my club blogging to try and get a few writing projects done. I want you to know I'll be adding your blog to my morning reads so I can continue to be inspired by your friendship and support. HUG

Maggie May said...

That was an awesome post, so beautifully written and both poems full of your feelings that are significant to anyone who has lost a loved one. Yes, solace comes in different ways at different times.

Geraldine said...

This was so profound and so beautifully written. Solace...an often forgotten word and emotion. Thanks for sharing Granny Smith. I am glad I stopped in today.
www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

danni said...

many good perspectives on solace - they become relative to the level of the distress, i think - i was especially moved my the second poem - very nice post!!!

latree said...

wonderful granny. i also find writing as solace as well. and that's why i blog, avoiding my self from being insane. it works thou.

forgetfulone said...

Granny, your poetry must provide a great source of comfort to you as it does to many of us.

Kamsin said...

I can totally relate to finding solace in writing! But you are so right that some hurts have no easy source of solace.

Inland Empire Girl said...

I loved this theme this week and I, like you find solace from my husband if I need support. However, I wrote about poetry so your two just provided me examples of how poetry can give us an avenue for expression. Nicely done.

Greyscale Territory said...

I read every word of your post and enjoyed it all! Solace often tends to depend on others who draw close in protective, calming embrace. I too have a partner who is my solace.

Just beautiful!

GreenishLady said...

I'm so glad to have read this, Granny, especially now as I begin the grieving for my mother. I've been finding little poems coming out over these weeks every couple of days. The solace of a loved one's presence, and some vehicle for expressing our pain... there is great comfort in that.

Your poem for your father is really touching. (And, like some of the other commenters, I have to say, that post was not too long for me. I could read your writing all day!)

keith hillman said...

Granny, it could have been twice as long and still would have enjoyed reading it! Once again you've made me think, and if I'd read this before writing mine, I may have searched my mind a little more closely.

Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

I love your eloquent expression. This story really touched me, and the poetic tribute to your father is a lasting legacy.

Thanks for your sweet comment on THE MANE POINT. I have enjoyed your encouragement at NICKERS AND INK as well.

Be blessed,
Linda

Remiman said...

Granny,
A post that has something to say is never too long, nor too short for that matter.
I want to say alot but will let this suffice: I find in your words and maturity of manner something that I can only strive to emulate.
rel

bella mocha said...

This beautiful post brought tears to my eyes; I held my breath as I read about the loss of your parents. I loved the line 'for the great griefs...I have no single answer...'
It spoke such truth to me...I realized that I still search for comfort from my griefs that won't heal and perhaps the only answer is to let them be.

Your posts can never be too long, I hang on to each and every word. Your words speak volumes to us even after they have long finished.

Thank you:)

Mine is up at:
http://bellamocha.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/sunday-scribblings-solace/

Bella:)

Rob Kistner said...

How incredibly engaging, heart-wrenching -- all that you wrote here... the introduction, and both poems. I am overwhelmed by their intimacy, their sense of grief. They are beautiful!

tumblewords said...

Lovely words, as always. Your posts are never too long...they always provide fodder for thought.

Patois said...

Such a very short post, really, but filled with such grief and love.

Beth said...

I've come to treasure your posts, Granny. You've made such a welcoming online community from these many Sunday Scribbling posts. Your wisdom inspires and your insights do bring SOLACE! Sometimes I think the hardest loss is one of our parents. And, of course, the assassination of John F. Kennedy remains still a great shock for those of us who experienced it.

anno said...

Writing is a solace that seldom disappoints. Visiting your blog is, too. "Razored grief" just floored me -- perfect poems.

Tammie Lee said...

Your poems express a poignant atmosphere and inspire memories of my own past grief and sadness.
Thank you for sharing.

Linda Jacobs said...

Even years ago your writing was exquisite! The one about your dad really touched my heart and made me think of my own dad.

WriterBug said...

I, too, seek solace in my husband and my writing. I feel so grateful to have both! Lovely post.

Suma said...

Your posts can never be too long, written as they are from the heart...


you are so right, "solace from what"? that's the key phrase here...

such a beautiful post...i'm so glad that i read this...

SmallWorld at Home said...

"With care I press the fitted lid in place.
How photo-sensitive is Osage orange?
How many minutes, hours, days, would fade
my father’s likeness to an even green?
I dare not risk this further loss of him.
With care I press the fitted lid in place.
How photo-sensitive is Osage orange?
How many minutes, hours, days, would fade
my father’s likeness to an even green?
I dare not risk this further loss of him."

This stanza: wow. The poem itself is amazing; this stanza is phenomenal. The language, the cadence, the imagery! Breathtaking.

Brad said...

Wow. I can see that Osage Orange so clearly now. What an incredible painting in words.