The House on Broughton Street
by Mary Ann Larkin
by Mary Ann Larkin
Always it was a summer afternoon
I see my mother climbing the stairs
to the porch
My grandmother waiting
tiny but formidable
She'd been expecting her
the sisters smiling
My mother in her grey crepe
the white gloves she always wore
Her hair and eyes dark
among these fair, freckled people
My father shyly presenting her—
something of his own—
Shuffling, they made room for her
and she took her place among them
and between them
grew something new
Marie, they came to say,
This is Grant's Marie
She seldom spoke
but rested among them
a harbor she'd found
My father gave her a carnelian ring
surrounded by silver hearts
Before Grandma died
she gave my mother the diamond brooch
My mother brought with her
fabrics that glistened
a touch of velvet
sometimes a feather
They noticed the light
in the rooms where she sat
And even thirty years later
after the lost jobs and the babies
after the mortgages and the wars
what they remembered most
was the way my mother
set aside her gloves
She was buried on Good Friday
There was a blizzard
After the funeral
the youngest uncle
read "Murder in the Cathedral" aloud
I have the carnelian ring now
the diamond brooch
I wear satin when I can
and I am attracted to old houses
where the light passes
across the porch to the windows, making
of the space between, a grace
I recently had a conversation with my mother where I apologized for moving so far from her. We laughed about the apology, as if it were a reasonable thing to apologize for, as if I had run out on a family, abandoned someone and refused to pay alimony. We both know that what Tim and I came out west to do was important to us, and how powerful it is to follow your bliss. But I still felt the need to apologize, if only to say: I once thought I could change who I was by changing my location, but I see now that I am perfect the way that I am.
Part of who I am comes from my mother. My father. My grandparents. The glittering constellation of my inherited past.
And part of who I am is all up to me.
I am traveling this week, to the place I call home. I feel my life circling back to old business, to reclaim lost loves and tossed-away lives. I also feel it opening up in whole new ways, as I discover new-to-me joys. Between the old closing over and the new opening up, I find my full life.
I just read the introduction to a collection of short stories based on places set aside by The Nature Conservancy. In case you haven’t noticed, place is a topic I obsess over. The introduction - written by Barbara Kingsolver - stood out to me for its articulation of something I have grown to understand about my own writing.
Kingsolver writes: “…the natural world has always inspired authors. From the early American novelist James Fenimore Cooper , who celebrated the ‘holy calm of Nature,’ to the contemporary writer Annie Proulx…who has said that ‘everything that happens to characters comes welling out of place’…our nation’s authors have been moved by nature and often incorporated it into their work. Indeed…not long ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor went so far as to remark, ‘Isn’t all writing nature writing?’”
Even though the quote addresses how the natural world influences writers, Henry Taylor’s words were especially relevant to my understanding of why I write at all. Whether I am writing a poem or a letter to a friend, I write to listen to the babbling brook inside, to take from it what glittering rocks I find and lift them up to the sun. I find my clearest self when I write, and discover both where I come from, and where I am heading.
As I copied the above passage, my plane descended to the ground. To North Carolina. To my eternal practice: Find ground. Sink in. Take what you’ve been given, and water it. Watch it grow, and give thanks for whatever shape it takes.
Wherever it is you are landing, whatever shape your life is taking, may you bring quiet attention to your loves and self today. I leave you with sweet hope and blessings for our shared future.
As always and most sincerely,