The great sea of love awaits.
But no more smelling the rose.
Can this be true?
Can the pine be there?
What of offal
Or fish in the sun?
From John Mayne Altar, SoMarts Cultural Centre altars
Going through my mother’s things yet again, I found a letter from the father of a high school friend. The letter is filled with yearning, a love letter. I am surprised.
My friend’s father — novelist, screenwriter, prisoner of conscience — and my mother were both pushed to the fringes by their politics. Maybe that is where they met. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. She worked with the Spanish Refugee Committee. That particular involvement, I always believed, was the cause of the FBI being an irregular but frightening presence in our lives. I thought I could hear the clicks of the wiretaps on the phone into my teenage years.
My friend’s father was blacklisted, of course, and there were no professional jobs for the blacklisted then. He was divorced and worked as a light man in a nightclub. I remember him as dour, but it was probably because of him that I heard the Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl at whom I laughed, maybe Lenny Bruce at whom I didn’t.
I went looking for my friend. She married someone famous and was not hard to find. I’ve sent some messages saying I have her father’s letter, asking if she’d like a copy. It is not quite an honest question.
What I really want to know is if she suspected. I had no idea and it makes me sad. In spite of the letters, (sent and received), the drawers of the journals, the pictures, the boxes of tributes, her notes dating from the thirties, our conversations, I have never managed to map the landscape in which my mother lived. It is as though, even when she was alive, we were separated by a River Styx.