Backstories

Monday Morning Musings:

“Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory—”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Yesterday, today and tomorrow are not consecutive, they are connected in a never-ending circle. Everything is connected.”— The Stranger, Dark (Netflix series)

 

I listen to the silent sounds,

a voice inside my head

remembered phrases—and the laugh—

forever gone

that echoes without reverberation

 

save within.

Yet without,

the birds call and sing the melodies

I cannot sing

with human voice, nor fly

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to treetops, or into clouds.

Where do they go?

What do they think

of the shadow’s encroachment?

Is it an annoyance

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to be interrupted

or more? Are we intruders remembered,

discussed?  I watch the crows gather and caw,

“One for sorrow, two for mirth,”

they follow me, it seems

exhorting

with strident calls—

beware or remember?

What am I to do?

And so, I listen, watch, write

 

of  yesterday—and tomorrow.

We walk through corridors,

where the past sits behind locked doors.

Clothing, furniture, paintings—so many paintings!

Scenes frozen in time

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upon a canvas,

the artist looked, remembering,

translating memories into color and form

each brushstroke, a touch from the past,

the whole, a memorial

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Work in Progress. An artist working on a mural. We got lost, and I took this photo through the windshield while my husband was trying to figure out where to go.

 

to what was—

this life now reduced to her things.

We travel over bridges, rising

over a river of ghosts

traveling–

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Low tide, the Delaware River at Red Bank Battlefield, July 2020. ©️Merril D. Smith 2020

 

through time and tides, 

we go about our lives,

carrying on our daily routines

cooking, cleaning, working, loving

when we can

we erase some backstories,

cherish others–

some will never be known.

Like birds, they’ve flown into the clouds,

drifted away, gone

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never to be seen again,

but we may find a trace, a feather

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Feather–could it be a turkey feather?

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This turkey was walking back and forth around the front of this car–pecking at it.

of what was

like pentimento, the traces of a laugh

left in the paintings’ vivid hues.

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One of my mom’s paintings, title and date unknown.

 

My siblings and I have been paying for a storage unit for my mom’s things. Because she died in April—of Covid 19-related complications during the worst of the pandemic in this area, we could not be with her or pack up her belongings. For some reason, movers were allowed in, and all of her things were packed up and put in the storage unit my sister rented. So, masked and keeping physical distance, we’ve emptied the storage space, an emotional experience. We have not yet held a real memorial for her.

 

Merril’s Movie Club: No movies this week. We finished Dark, a three-season German series on Netflix, which my husband and I both really liked, even though we were totally confused. If you keep with it, the very last episode does explain and tie things up. We started watching The Twelve, a new Belgian series on Netflix, which explores the backstories of the jurors and the people involved in a murder case—actually two different murder cases because a woman is accused of killing her best friend many years before and her child more recently. We’re about halfway through it, and we both like it, and it has a wondering who committed the crime(s).

Also, I read The Women of the Copper Country, a historical novel by Mary Doria Russell. Her books are all well-researched, but she is also an excellent writer with a great ear for dialog and character development. I’ve enjoyed all of her books. This one focused on the copper mines in upper Michigan and the strike in 1913, led largely by the women there. I knew nothing about these mines or the strike, and yet it also seems very relevant. I’m able to get books from the library now in a contactless system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52 thoughts on “Backstories

  1. What an emotional, tough time this must be for you and your siblings. It seems surreal at times to think this is happening (unfolding?) as it is here. I’m glad you have family to help with the unpacking. Your pictures and words are beautiful.
    Take care.

  2. Oh Merril, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this has been. Please know that I’m thinking of you, and I hope having some of your mother’s possessions will provide the comfort you need. As always, your words and photographs are beautiful. xo

  3. Beautifully done. The emotions run the gamut as we go through loved-ones things. My cousin held my great-aunt’s funeral this past Saturday – I was working so could not attend. They had it outside, using a pick-up truck as a food station – rather novel idea and worked to everyone’s advantage.

  4. Emotionally shattering: Sifting through your mother’s things amid the pandemic. As a blog reader, you know all about clearing out two houses of my deceased lived ones. Like you, I had my siblings as companions. So sorry you could not say a proper goodbye or hold a service. At least not yet.

    I’m sure you will find just the right niches for one or more of your mother’s paintings.

  5. My younger daughter has promised to deal with all my art when I die…little does she know!
    I still can’t reconcile these terrible lonely deaths with no way to truly mourn. That is the worst part of this virus.
    Sending hugs. (K)

    • Thank you so much, Kerfe, for words and hugs.
      We all have all taken some of my mom’s paintings over the past few years, and when she moved into the assisted living then nursing home, we went through more of them. What we have now are mostly her best, plus some more valuable paintings by other artists that she had hanging on her walls. It’s still a lot of paintings!

  6. “…the traces of a laugh/left in the paintings’ vivid hues.”
    It’s good that you are already hearing the laughter in your mother’s paintings…embrace that bit of Agrodolce Vita.
    My deepest condolences to you on the loss of your mother during this cruelest of times.

  7. I hope you’ll forgive me if this seems like an odd direction to take this, but here goes.

    Do memories, and the events that live within them, exist on another plane? When we consider them, sort them, try to surmise the truth they hold, do we change or diminish them in any way, or are they like crows, taking amusement at our attempts to affect something that is beyond our reach?

    • Hi Ken–I don’t mind at all because that’s the kind of thought I have. I think it’s why I love stories that bend time and space so much. I don’t suppose I can actually answer your question though. Memories changes with remembering–there are definitely false memories, so perhaps memories do exist somewhere on another plane. Or perhaps, they exist, changed, within other timelines.

    • Oh, thank you for coming back to this! Yes, I guess it is what happens to all of us. It’s the way it happened in this case though made it worse–several rushed moves, and then everything packed willy-nilly in storage. Some of her stuff was broken. Just so sad.

      • The whole episode was tragic. And I’m not sure I understand the logic of it. If someone is dying they’re hardly at risk. But even in the best of worlds, we leave our things behind and they become what the survivors hang onto.

      • Yes–here more disorganized because each state, county, etc. had its own guidelines and rules. My mom’s place was already understaffed, which we didn’t realize till she was already there.

      • I had hoped there would be a shake up in the way elderly people are looked after. It’s so iniquitous that the private homes (and they are almost all private) make millions for their shareholders! And they make it from milking people dry who have no other option, and not even delivering basic care. They should rot in jail.

      • I think the ones here that are not private–as in the VA (veterans) places are even worse. There seems to be a great variation here, but they are all so expensive. And the people who do most of the actual caregiving are certainly not making much money. I think both facilities where my mom lived were fine (if expensive) for people who are in pretty good physical/mental shape.

  8. Oh my, “movers were allowed” in the facility, but not family. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how debilitating this isolation is for the elderly. Don’t we know it! Sounds horrible, I suppose, but I’m so glad my mom doesn’t have to live with the confusion of isolation now, where suddenly her family no longer visited, and she didn’t understand why. I feel for you, going through that storage. Beyond sad. We are traveling to DE for a Celebration of Life service, finally, for my mom at her church. All of her family will be there although not sure about my son/her grandson. Flying from CA seems too scary right now. But, I’m so ready for us all to laugh and cry together. Then on to the OCNJ beach to celebrate her some more. Very scary – is it safe? But comforting for us all. Thinking of you! xo

    • Thanks so much, Pam. I feel for you, too. Yes, beginning in March, no one was allowed in the facility, and she died in April. And of course, we would have been terrified to go inside anyway. I was wondering if you’d be going to OC. We saw younger daughter, son-in-law and their puppy briefly yesterday–we did a garden produce exchange. No hugging, stayed apart, and stood outside in the heat.

  9. Ahh, I got it on the second read, which was out loud. I think I should read all poetry out loud. It seems to sink in, better.
    Your mom’s painting at the end is fabulous.
    The whole thing about cleaning out the locker is a heartbreaker. I’ve cleaned out my mom’s apartment and my in-laws homes when they passed. I tried not to keep much, but Norm kept a lot. His parents were artists, and the art is easy to keep.
    So, I’ve been getting rid of as much of my junk as possible. Yet, it seems no matter how much I give away or sell, the shelves and closets are still full.

    The poem is wonderful. You seem to present all the questions that can’t really be answered – life.
    Take care, Merril, and thank you for this beautiful poem!

    • Thank you so much, Resa, for this thoughtful comment. My mom had so many paintings–both her own work and that of others. We and other family members already had some of her paintings. We had to get rid of some of her stuff when she moved to an assisted living facility in January. Then movers just packed up all her stuff in the midst of the pandemic when she died in April, and it all got piled into a storage place near my sister’s house. The Covid situation has made everything just that much more awful. 😔

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