dunmanway, county cork (c) carole craig
En route to San Francisco
I am going home — one of the last places on earth I want to be. Time, like a bounty hunter, has caught up with me. My mother is 97 and counting. Eating, dressing, the ordinary choices of life confuse her, but she choses not to leave her home, the life she has made. And who can blame her for that — she is so firmly rooted, so well watered by love and fidelity.
She was a singer and is beloved, in the way that performers are, by hundreds, perhaps thousands. And she has friends, real friends.
Her politics have always been brave. In the 1950s when segregation was still the law our home insurance was cancelled because both black and white people came to visit; my mother was not cowed by the clicks on the phone that told us of the wire taps or visits from the FBI; in 1965 when a white woman on Martin Luther King’s Selma to Montgomery march was murdered I thought for several hours it was her because she was also there.
There are people, I’ve met them, who feel it is an honour to spend time with her.
I am not among them. It’s not that we don’t love each other. We do, we’ve been through so much together But to explain how I face my task I must say that I never felt the recipient of bountiful mother-love –– there are reasons for that, although this is not the place. I have my scars and wounds. This is not the place.
I have come home because her heart’s desire to die where she has lived may no longer possible. My mother can barely climb the stairs to the top floor and her single bed so she can watch the sun set over the Pacific as she falls asleep. She can barely climb the stairs to the middle floor to reach a toilet and refuses to try the commode. Sometimes she sits in a chair on the landing and cannot remember if she was going up or down.
I have to find her a place of safety — this a chronicle of that search.
I have had to leave my home in Dublin, my photographic projects, my cats, my darkroom, my books, my offer of an MFA and the planned cycle of short stories, my wonderful neighbors, the guiding wisdom of my writing group, the magical Irish light — ‘ little dyings’.
Perhaps the most difficult, I have to come to terms with America again — the brutality, immorality, the beauty. Re-enter dark water. Sink or swim. Today, Kenneth Patchen, American of course, breaks the surface with me:
“All things are one thing to the earth
rayless as a blind leper Blake lies with everyman
and the fat lord lies next to his bastard at last
and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean what we think it does
for we two shall never lie there
we shall not be there when death reaches out his sparkling hands
there are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter
which of them of death