by Katharine Kaufman
Tonight, in our writing class there’s only Peg, Jayne and me. The time we have feels luxurious and we talk about the pups Peg is adopting, Jayne’s show coming up, my mother’s house. I read about theory, which I never do. We’re writing anti-memoir, which has less conventional memoir constraints and perhaps relies on its own invented forms and leans into the question and edges of memory itself. Peg writes about the lightness of loss. * I open my thick family dictionary, close my eyes and point. My finger lands on “anarchy.” OK. I’ll write with the word anarchy as my hidden leader and see where it takes me.
Leaving my mom’s house for the last time, sun down over ocean through pines. I look at the torn carpet on the stairs with the anarchy of things fallen there, screws from the file cabinets, and bits of string, small nails from taking down the nails on the walls for hanging mirrors and posters, photos. Smaller things, so small they have no category, things that stuck, left there that ended there. The music and joy and weight of a house. Boxed belongings carried down stairs.
And looking at the stairs that kind of alley of exhaustion butyouhavetokeepgoing anyway spirals through my body. No sweet tears goodbye. I want to leave fast and now, before the sun goes, before ghosts (but it’s already too late for that). My cousin who stayed and worked with us, Allison told me, when she was leaving, she felt sad, she would never be back to visit again.
“How was it for you?” she asked?
I couldn’t say. The accumulation of death and travel and work and kind of how memory is tricky and grief more tricky—all this wears me down.
On the way out, I pull into Goodwill with a 200 year old chair in the back. Categories of donations: hard things, soft things, breakable. A worker that afternoon on our fifth trip there picked up a small stuffed animal bird, “Someone will love this,” she said.
“We have twenty boxes of books,” I say.
“Just make a stack to the left, here,” she says. And when we bring back seventeen more the first ones are gone and we know what to do.
The realtor, Laurie, and caregiver, Carrie, thought the legs on the chair were chopped off but my brother knew it was an antique. The night guy at Goodwill said, “We don’t take furniture but if we did take furniture, we wouldn’t take this chair because it’d take too much effort to restore. And we don’t take medical supplies either.” he said, as he handed me back the blood pressure sleeve, and the unopened box with the necklace with the red button in it you press when you need help.
I drove behind Staples and left the chair by a dumpster and clicked a photo, something Rog and Dustin would do but I never would do. I was nervous and okay—I backed into a yellow post and crunched the back of the rental car. Everyone I met about it, my brother and the rental person and the insurance person were all okay with it.
“It happens all the time. You just call the insurance, spend five hundred, a thousand whatever the deductible. That’s what you do.”
The neighbor, Tom comes over to tell us the house is built on a ledge.
“You should fix up the house. The water heater was original.”
(When did he look at the water heater?) He thinks we’ll sell it to him at the new lower price, that he’ll wear us down. He comes over again to tell us the shed is closer than 25 feet from the edge of his property. If he bought the house, we wouldn’t have to move the shed and also the generator. “Okay,” we say. My brother, Roger, and Carrie and I mumble and growl to each other via text. I imagine neighbor Tom, walks over with his measuring stick when we aren’t there and counts, one, two three, and up to twenty-five. And then he thinks, I really am going to tell them they have to move this thing. I imagine him writing down the exact numbers, so he’ll remember.
It happens all the time.
Did you know there’s a 2016 discovery of an organ in the body—named as an organ—the Mesentery. It’s like fascia sort of, suspending the organs. They thought it was fragmented, separate, but it is unified, one thing with different responsibilities, and you can manipulate it, which is what Mary Eaman, the PT did on my tired body. The part suspending my lungs was rigid, and my heart. She worked above my heart, and my throat.
When I came home with my new suspended heart, the pictures of the perfectly minimally staged house for sale came to my inbox. It was beautifully done. A chaos of generations of families came down to a few pieces of furniture spaciously placed. A couch. On the porch where my mom collapsed a couple bright outdoor chairs with cushions, face the water. I scrolled through the rooms. This side table, this dining table with the leaves gone, this lamp of Polly’s. My father’s round stones on the fireplace. This outdoor wicker brought in. I could barely recognize the rooms. The floors shined and windows you could see out of. A bed was in a place where a desk was. A bed was in place of four file cabinets in this room and eight in my mother’s office. Ariel views over the woods showed the underwater reefs and seaweed and the coast line with houses hidden below the trees. There’s her roof; there’s the neighbor’s.
It’s muscle raining in Colorado and there’s a drone flying over my mother’s house in sunny Maine, snapping birds eye views. The drone is trying to mimic a spirit flying in the clouds.
Or—if there were two spirits or a sky of spirits they might say, “There’s the shed, grandfathered in.” Or they might say, laughing and floating touching and going to each other: “Look, look there’s the lightness of loss.”
~ o ~
the tree stands there undressing
throws her leaves to the wind
she waves her nude limbs
at the bird murmuration
an undulating flock
deaf to her last fall call
she shakes her twiggy fists
as the cloud crowded sky
wrestles over its layers of gray
I turn my palms to face her
she tells me to listen with my skin
open every pore to learn her lyrics
drink in sunlight as sustenance
imagine her heartwood as my core
soften under her deciduous nature
drop my petals of youth
as she yields her seasonal crown
then taste the lightness of loss
Join Katharine for these upcoming programs!
About Katharine Kaufman
Katharine Kaufman teaches Yoga, meditation, writing workshops, and contemplative dance in Boulder County, at Drala Mountain Center in Colorado and online. She studied Yoga in Mysore, South India, and taught for many years at The Yoga Workshop, Studio Be and Naropa University. She holds MFAs in Performance/Choreography as well as Writing/Poetics. Her poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Elephant Journal, bottle rockets, and the anthologies, Uncontained, Writers and Photographers in the Garden and the Margins, and Precipice. She contributes essays to Drala Mountain Center’s blog. Katharine is ordained in the Soto Zen lineage.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!