“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” –Rilke
It’s the end of my father’s life. It’s been that way for three years now, and I’d go to him, thinking it would be goodbye and he would recover, just enough to keep living, but diminished and vanishing more everyday. He was always a wanderer, traveling the world, manic and moving through space constantly. He disappeared from my life when I was five and I found him again when I was thirty five, so I’ve known him twelve years now and in that time, I would occasionally panic, because he’d wander off & I felt like I might not find him again, but he promised he’d always come back and he did.
Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.
I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
These are the kinds of stories my dad always told, and there’s no use asking questions, there never was any use questioning his stories, no matter how fantastic they often were. And I never wanted to. They always felt like gifts. Once a deer came out of the woods and stayed near him until she gave birth. Once he sewed the ripped pouch of a wounded pelican he found. I’ve written poems about him and his stories. I often have said he reminds me of a shaman, a story-healer with story-medicine.
Piecing the words together for him, It struck me that when he disappeared from my life he was out collecting these stories, and though as a child I’d felt loss, as an adult I felt grateful. I asked him if when he is confined to bed and can’t speak, if he spends time remembering all the places he’s been, all his wanderings and adventures and he answered, “All the time.”
When the clock turned midnight for the New Year I was sewing you a quilt. I’ve been sewing it for a long time. It’s made of Czech linen I bought in Brno years ago. It was June and the Linden tress were blooming and I was crying because I was in love. I still am, and I don’t think it will ever go away; it seems to be a habit of mine, but at least I don’t want to kill myself and I really don’t think I ever will, though I think suicidal ideation will always walk along beside me, sometimes far off, sometimes nearer, but I’ve made peace with it and no longer feel afraid of my own thoughts. I embroidered magic symbols on the linen, bees, eyes, flowers, vines, birds. They all mean something, but maybe I won’t say what and just leave it secret.
I once asked you a question and you answered, “magic”. That’s the way it is, long months of silence that turn to years and then one word at the stroke of midnight and I’m struck.
I’ve started to really understand that time is not linear. I’ve come to know this deep in my bones and it comforts me. I wonder if it’s something you only know when you’re a child, without even knowing that you know, and then you remember it again when you
get older. Janet Frame said, “There is no past or future. Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water.”
If I close my eyes right now I’m back in Iceland in the deep winter-dark, standing alone in a great expanse, a lava field of stones, skith of snow on the scattered rocks. It’s 5:00 pm but it’s so dark, it might as well be the middle of the night. Though there’s no reason to be afraid, I feel afraid, which just happens sometimes. It has nothing to do with death or danger, but I think it is the flip side of fierce love–the fear of losing the world, because you love it so much and it’s all so beautiful. but I remain out there under the huge sky spinning with stars and the low humming fear which is itself love is just folded up neatly and stored away in my heart, not too much trouble. I’ll stay like this, insistent on standing out here, telling you everything about the world, praise, speaking into the dark with a steady determination to keep living and keep loving until the end.
Nothing really disappears. I’m comforted by the idea that everything is energy and energy never dies, is just transformed. I’m not afraid of death at all. I used to be, but I haven’t felt that way for a long time.
As time passes in its orbit and loops, I’ll be telling you things through the silence and solitude, I’ll piece together sentences and make them into poems and one day I’ll ask another question, and on that day when I’m least expecting it, I know you’ll answer.