I have been away, attending the funeral of my great aunt Mary, and then visiting my family for my mother's birthday and my sister's sixteenth birthday. It's been a strange trip, a funny mixture of sad and happy. My parents had to work during our visit, but my grandfather was there during the day. He was fun to hang out with, in spite of some medical problems of his own. My mom took us out to fancy dinners and then took me shopping on her birthday. Ken drove us, more than 2500 miles in all. That was stressful. And while we were there he drove my sister around to see some friends, get a haircut. He's a good brother-in-law. She passed her driving test yesterday and will soon be driving herself around.
I'm tired, after sixteen hours in the car yesterday, so it seems like a good opportunity to post the August poem:
On The Meaning Of Things
by Ana Castillo
(In memory of Dieter Herms)
He took me to my first opera.
I was 38 and he was dying.
He looked elegantly gaunt rather than infirmed
in an off-white double breasted jacket
suitable for summer.
It was 'Don Giovanni', in Italian with
German subtitles projected onto a screen.
"The plot is rather stupid," he said and already knew,
but enjoyed hearing Mozart again, the high point for him
being when he recognized an aria and could fit it
into the story.
He listened throughout near-faint
with the thinness of air, the crowded theatre,
and the constant drilling pain.
At intermission, he reserved a table
and we had champagne.
"This will be the last time we see each other,"
he said. "What is hardest for me to give up is memory."
I moved my seat closer to his, "Perhaps, memory too,
will be transformed," I said.
"Will I remember you?" he asked.
"In another way," I speculated,
as is all we can do
with the meaning of greetings and partings, and love
that resists death.
--Originally printed in Poesía, Ollantay Press, 1995
My aunt Mary never took me to see an opera, but she did own opera glasses, and used them for watching TV, or watching the pastor in church. She was going blind, her last years, and resented it, but the opera glasses helped. Aunt Mary worked as the admissions director for a fancy girls school in Dallas for 37 years (I went there for preschool and kindergarten) and moved in a set of rich and famous people who did go to operas. She did take me to breakfast and then to school, when I was about five years old, and we lived in Dallas. She did give me old books signed by famous authors she'd met, for my birthdays. It's funny how as soon as someone dies, they stop being old. They're every age at once. She's as much the person I remember from my childhood, now, as the person who was sick in the nursing home these last few years. She's the person I've heard stories about, who went to college and then began a career in Chicago before World War II, and then moved to Wichita to work for Boeing as a part of the war effort. The happier, younger Mary is as real now as the older, sadder one, who had already given up a lot of her memories... That's a comforting thought for me.