In dream, I am caring for a garden on
the third floor of the house I live in, attic but
outdoors, with raised beds, big plants in tubs,
concrete walks – it’s nothing like a building’s
top story. There’s no source of water, all the plants
need it badly, the ones in pots are dry, shrinking
away from the edges, I don’t know how to get
water up here, save them from dying. I start to
wonder what would grow here without much
water, care, remember the nursery ad for an Alpine
perennial, a low green maze of spreading white
blossoms. Do I need to tear out everything,
replant with this mountain bloom?
The third floor of a house, the third generation
of a household? Morning is cold, the gingkoes tossing
in the wind. Last night my son and daughter-in-law
present us with a Grandparents’ Day card, their way
of announcing the news: their first child is due
in May. I hope we sounded pleased enough. Is my
dream’s task to nurture a grandchild? My son says
everything he’s being told is negative: your life
will never be the same, you’ll never feel free, never
again have a decent night’s sleep, that stale litany.
Which is mostly true, I don’t say. Can I tell him
that the life-and-thought-altering perceptions and
pleasures of being a parent are as intense as its fears
or frustrations, that having a child can be one’s
richest experience, has been that for me?
Unexpected weather: days of on-shore
breezes, the ocean’s incursion bringing
a season of wind and water. Walking the dog
I see a woodpecker on a gingko trunk: speck of
red head, black and white shape, delicate, small.
The world is changed and it isn’t. I worry about
my son, daughter-in-law, about how, their lives
already so pressured, they’ll cope with having
a child. I’m not overjoyed, as I’m supposed
to be, at the news. I feel pummeled, harried.
I need more conscious wisdom, more sense
of how to live. Today the only thing clear
to me is that I should water the parched
hanging plants on the porch.
Christmas morning. The day of birth coming
three? four? days after the solstice, when birth
pangs, actual labor, could have started. In this
version it is not winter which is time of hidden
growth, but spring, summer, autumn—nine
months’ gestation culminating in December
birth. At the first dawn after the year’s longest
night, something wakes, says to the world that
at the nadir there is life already: not just faint
stirring but miraculous realization, futurity
and hope fully present already.
The rain it raineth every day.
It rains today, at any rate, warm
rain, unseasonable, unpredicted.
My mother-in-law Katie’s clock
sounds the hours. The fetus is a
girl, we’re told, she will be Katie.
My husband confesses a twinge of
disappointment that it’s not a boy.
I thought I’d feel that way but don’t;
Why? Because a girl child will be new
to me, newer than a boy would? Even
if this child were a boy very much like
my son, his father, it would be different
for me because grandchild, not child,
because I’ll be close to 68, not 38, when
this child is born. Katie’s clock sounds
the half hour, clear, resonant. I can’t
hear the rain but it’s still falling. A
gray dull day—for which I will be
thankful as I know how. I think
of Katie and touch wood.
In my dream I am promising my son, still
a young boy, I’ll paint some glasses for him:
champagne flutes, part of a set, a present he
loves. I’m not certain I can keep this promise,
afford the special glazes I’ll need. He imagines
what they’ll look like: jewel-colored, translucent,
aglow. What’s most vivid in the dream is his
delight. What in my life would be like having
a brilliantly colored chalice I long for? I’m
afraid I won’t love my grandchild the way one
is supposed to, the way everyone tells me I will.
I was probably afraid I wouldn’t love a child
that way. I did. I still do. Waking, I turn to
the bedroom window, notice for the first time
that our oldest orchid, a friend’s gift when we
moved to this house, is finally reblooming.
Tuesday morning, pale cold sun comes up like
white stage light on Tonawanda Street’s dormers.
Nothing’s more precious than Tuesday: the pure
mundane. I haven’t figured out how to fit in Dante,
where to put the stack of books for the new project,
reading the Commedia. I’ll have to find time for it
as well as space. A cartoon in this week’s New Yorker:
a middle-aged man sitting up in a hotel room bed
answers his phone: “This is your wake-up call.
Change or die.” In mine, there’s no “or”: it’s
change and die. Announcement not command:
change is what you’re doing, willy-nilly, like dying.
Will a grandchild broaden my sights or narrow
them? I clear a shelf, pile books on it, I’ll fit in
Dante in snatches, unmethodical grasp at infernal
straws. I need to plan dinner, make a list for the
butcher, supermarket, bakery, a comprehensive
list: more straws. What’s not on it is the question:
how to provide what we all need, the four, soon
five, of us, for nourishment, for wholeness of
being. The sun’s richer now, warmer. It’s time
to turn these straws into gold.
Thirty years ago, pregnant with my son, afraid
because I’d been spotting that something was
wrong with the fetus, I dream that the doctors
are able to slip him out of my womb, examine
him: I see that he’s whole, perfectly formed,
eyes closed, the face a Buddha’s. Last night
I’m given my granddaughter by dream: dark
eyes open, her face glowing, delicate. I hadn’t
known I was worrying about her.
Quarter of eight and it’s so dark, grey, murky
that I climb back into bed with my coffee rather
than sitting in the lightless living room. I want
comfort, I want sleep and waking, dream and
desire, I want coffee and have it, want so much
that I have, that I don’t. I need to focus on my
work today and can, will. Will. What you will.
Will o’ the wisp. Will of the wish, the want,
the lack. I need to move my body, to body
forth my mind, my will. It’s mud season, rain
trickles down the gutterspouting outside my
bedroom window, rumbling gurgle, burble
of watery music. I will put on my clothes, I
will marshal my energies as if they were young
soldiers, not the old tired veterans of a long
grinding campaign. The countryside in which
we wage war is a landscape of inner experience,
that motherland, that fatherland we are born
into, formed by from earliest childhood or
before, in utero. The world we half perceive
and half create, ab ovo, from the beginning,
within us and without us. My granddaughter
in her mother’s womb.
Waking to unexpected weather: the world icy,
treacherous, thinly coated by a substance that
transforms familiar to alien landscape. I woke
and woke, a troubled night. Now, in snowlight,
I count the buds swelling by miniscule degrees
on the orchid: seven. Will there be seven flowers,
when? In the dream I just remember, someone
from the town where I used to live is telling me
I’ve lost weight. What I’ve lost is a garden, a
river, herons, a far shore studded with small
fat islands like the Hesperides. These losses
weigh heavily. What I have gained is still
budding like the slow reluctant orchid.
Katie’s clock strikes nine. Will a little Katie
like the sound of Katie’s clock? Light floods
the dormers, facades of houses: transient, watery,
New England’s ephemeral weather. Shoots of
the paperwhite bulbs in the dining room are
thrusting up, seeming to grow by the hour.
Buds on the orchid are still pursed, tight.
At moments it feels as if I’m shaping a new life
here, giving it form; at others, I’m at sea, seem
controlled by others and the other. I think
about baseball, the Red Sox, this morning,
spring training begun. I too need spring training,
for the garden, for the baby. I’ll have to invent
myself as a grandmother. I’ll be Grammy, as
Katie was to my son. I’ll tell my granddaughter
that her father’s grammy was named Katie,
that she had silver braids. I don’t have
silver braids. Perhaps I shall.
The fattest bud on the orchid is opening,
stretching into blossom. I am feeling
comparatively happy today, despite nerves
about baseball and babies, my husband’s
health, my work, the future. As if spring
is coming to my body, my soul. Because
of paperwhites and orchids, because fallen
snow is beautiful and the absence of snow
is a gift, because the cold is bracing, because
I am beginning to think of a garden, because
I am beginning to think of the coming child
with less apprehension more contemplated
pleasure, because I’m an animal who has
responsiveness to life built into my pysche,
synapses. Because memory is immersion in
a stream alive with underwater life, lilies,
leaves shimmering in refracted sunlight
and the surfacing from memory is breath,
a gift of the present like air to the almost
drowned. Because neither speech nor
silence exhaust what wells within me.
Sandra Kohler‘s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Natural Bridge, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and The Colorado Review.