a double sestina
for grandma Mimi
Papa Louis had a gold pocket watch
monogrammed L.C.S. and filled with cogs
that produced an almost feminine tick.
The hands moved smartly; it was fun to wind.
It fit easily in hand or pocket
and the second sweep scribed a precise wheel.
But Louis’s watch ran all the way down
and Mom received it from his daughter’s hands.
My mom loved to look at its spinning gears,
to listen to the music of the spring,
the tiny whine of metal on jewels
and the secret click of the escapement.
Papa Joe heard the screech of ion wheels,
named each station on his conductor’s watch,
and kept all the tickets in his pockets.
On the railroad, he was no less a cog
than the precise timepiece he had to wind,
that had to be in synch on every tick
with the railroad’s master clock. No escape,
when a second’s error magnifies down
the line, could wreck the company’s jewel,
the Minuteman Express! The watch’s hands
click neatly, with an almost jaunty spring,
tugged by the whirling and elegant gears.
Inside the cover, dozens of fine tick
marks show the company’s regular wheel
of inspections were made. Once, when I wound
the mainspring of Papa Joe’s railroad watch,
I heard the faint tock of its golden cogs;
I loved the weight of it in my pocket.
It’s the only piece of Papa Joe’s gear
I own. He had little when he escaped
this life in 1940, in the spring.
From father to son it’s been handed down
through four generations, into my hands —
a railroad watch of twenty-one jewels.
I tend not to keep it in my pocket,
though. The mainspring broke and it stopped ticking,
and few can repair its delicate cogs
or know how to fix the minute-hand wheel.
I don’t want to risk great-grandfather’s watch
to a repairer with less skill than wind.
Anne Marie’s watch is one of the jewels
of our family’s heirlooms. Its silver gears
are globed in crystal, and its tiny hands
thus are magnified. The bauble escaped
my mother’s hands; her mother let her down
and gave it to my aunt Linda, the spring
before she died. It a strange and winding
way, it wound up in my cousin’s pocket
the day her sister wed. Somehow, watching
Claire get hitched to Brian, which might have ticked
Megan off, went just fine. The free-wheeling
spirit of great-grandma Anne kept the cogs
from getting too jammed. Now, once more, it’s spring,
and we’re thinking about heirloom jewels
and what sticks of furniture will pass down
to the next generation. Grandma’s gear
will be divided soon. She can’t escape
the pneumonia, which chokes her like rough hands
on her throat. The hospital staff are cogs
for a machine that measures how winded
she is, and every day the nurses wheel
in another I.V. stand with pockets
of antibiotics, check her ticker,
and note down she’s survived another watch.
Grandma bruises even when gentle hands
lift her from bed to chair and back. The spring
holds no promise for her; she can’t escape
the hospital bed, and her old jewels
tear her frail skin. In a sense, she’s gearing
up to let it all run completely down.
Can’t escape the wheel, nor pocket life’s jewels:
This spring must unwind, gears will cease to tick;
with stilled hands and cogs, the watch will run down.
I wanted to wait a bit, and post this after my mini vacation in Florida, but (after I told ; and I waited until the end of her workday to let her know first) I wanted to let my readers know that grandma died last night. It happened about 10:15-10:30; my dad is somewhat confused and disoriented, and he hasn’t told us too much about what’s going on up north. My mom and I are flying home tomorrow to be with him. We haven’t heard from him in several hours, and mom is trying not to be worried — ok, the phone rang, and it’s dad. So he’s all right, but confused and upset.
For my part, I’m relieved, sorrowful, upset and bitter-sweetly happy. She’s not suffering any more; she’s free of pain; she’s reunited with her husband; she knows that God doesn’t hate her; she’s freed of life that was becoming a burden to her. It doesn’t matter that some of my thoughts are mutually contradictory right now. It’s OK for her to be in both the Elysian Fields and the New Eden, and just a lifeless corpse, right now.
The poem behind the cut was the result of me dealing, over last Saturday and Sunday, before she died, with the recognition that she was going to be passing soon. I think I expected her to die while I was down here in Florida.
There’s more, but some of it is private, personal family stuff, and the whole situation is a little raw right now. I’ll write about it later.