Clay foot

September 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

My grey mother with the red clay feet, her weekends in the garden building and razing down the pathways and small wild places to make a turning winding labyrinthine that swallowed stray cats and small children.  I drew a map to find my way home from my own days in her backyard grass, with the hard spiked sweet gum balls falling from the trees overhead and sticking in my tumble down brown curls. I came in some days on my own bare feet clay red and sticky, slapping on linoleum to a different rhythm than hers, shoe-clad still and disapproving of nature on her floor. Nature in her house, where I brought it in to make my own: small summer snow people, stuck together with chunky glue and sweet gum balls, smiling googly eyes; they hung on the tree at Christmas or vanished in my closet midway through the fall when I made and she didn’t see. My mother doesn’t meet the things I made; all that nature art was just a glue-stuck shot-in-the-dark for a small “good job” and in the lack of that, that’s when I saw my mother, my mother and her feet of clay inside. When cobbled nature art became poetry and I glued words together instead, with a slow methodical tap of a keyboard between brother’s war games and mother’s working and dial-up when friends called. When I found something that made me feel alive, real, like breathing had meaning if only to communicate what breath is like on the page, as if to put words to the feelings we all have, feelings we run into in the grocery store, or in the park, walking and we recognize their faces because they’ve been here before but we’ve never had the courage to stop them, pause them, shake their hand and ask their name and know them by the way they make us think. When I made and built and poured out my young soul like pancake batter on a Saturday morning but she never plugged in the griddle so I sat and curdled in mid-afternoon. The small things she couldn’t see for the mess they made, never the “good job” affirmation I wanted in words on paper not in microwaved dinner or dry rye bread. Mother’s red clay feet – I thought I saw them, saw them in the yelling and the fighting and the way she’d puff herself up fragile and airy but strong in the breath of her like a bird ruffling growing and she was never bigger than him but sometimes her words were sharper and faster, chainsaw rumbling and they cut him straight through. Him, my father tree trunk walking teddy bear loving but stumbling because he forgot or saw something more important- I work late nights because I love you – he was never there but we all forgot the reason and absence of him was an absence of love. But there were no oysters or late nights at the bars laughing and growing and living a way we never got to, he was always late nights at the office, working long past closing to keep his company alive, keep his family eating and laughing and his sacrifice was losing her love. But he kept her, he kept us warm and fed and safe and loved in the moments he was there, the brief blips of time when life was more than work and he could show us how he held us in his soul, how he wrapped those pictures of us ’round his mind under the flickering tired lights of work. Father’s feet of clay were dusted in metallic shavings, metal in the skin of his hands by the time I looked at them closely. Tired old hands too young curling tightly round the things he wanted for his family. And they, they with their feet of clay, raising me and raising him and owning that we’d be whatever we decided but never telling us we could be anything, because parents don’t lie to their kids. Parents feet of clay, moving slowly across the lives of the children that love gave them, giving of everything that was, until love was a slice of dry rye bread and late night absence said I love you better than we all could tongue by tongue.

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