Death and the Intimacy of Laundry
death doesn’t enter as a destroyer
death enters in waves of intimacy.
today i am washing clothes still damp from death
i can smell last breaths on every fiber
the overalls covered in paint and leaves
tender moss clinging to my hands
the white shirt you wore to ‘dress up’
to go the museum. the black pants, rolled.
your carhartt jacket and workpants
all jumbled up with towels used these last days.
i don’t want the death clothes
to touch the living clothes.
i am trying to keep things separate
so i don’t lose my place. this is all sacred work.
i unroll the pant legs gingerly and curiously
tiny tree bits fall to the ground but a lizard
would not surprise me my dear.
yes i know i will only have this one
chance to shake the mountain
from off of your clothes.
now it is my clothes that carry
the mountain and the scent of
wood smoke, rain and food cooked on the stove.
and yes my dear teacher, i haven’t missed a thing.
in this vigil of you and your heart
i haven’t missed a beat. but I miss yours now.
with the searching eyes of the archeologist
i explore cadmium orange and thalo blue
strokes made upon a pant leg
once holding the thigh of the artist.
I shake them out of their intricately colored wad
and see if I notice which color
went with which painting, when.
you have shaken off your garments
once and for all.
a snake from her skin you slid
smoothly and silently from me.
i watched as you moved beyond
the horizon, beyond what I could
ever see and know.
in one deft brush stroke
you moved from snake to bird and flew free
of your gravity. whoosh.
each sock and black ribbed tank top
I examine for stickers and burrs
we do this you know –
poets have tea with death
and the intimacy of laundry –
we wonder, is this the last
burr of hers I will ever have
the chance to pull
from the burrow of the sock?
so it is precious.
it must all be done very mindfully.
even the discarded must be
done so with a thought towards
its usefulness. and what it meant to you.
i could write a poem of praise
for the usefulness of towels
during death at home.
home. we brought you home.
we dressed you
in your painters smock from Paris
for the long bumpy ride up the mountain.
we just let go of all the tubes of ugliness
and could see your precious face
and we broke you out of that joint
after 7 days of your cosmic sleep.
we dared to free you from there and
we did. and Spirit Warrior spoke for all of us
with her drum and the ancestors sang.
i held your white tossled head
and listened for what wasn’t being said.
and did speak to you clearly
and you did speak to me clearly;
from that other place you taught me about.
that is a story for another day.
so grateful were we, to bring you home.
carried down gravel rock
and road to a bed surrounded by you own art.
and cosmic lineage.
and us. you were surrounded by us.
we made it. alive. and yes, you seemed
much more peaceful here.
our friends came with chickens and beer
and chocolate and wore garments of
celebration instead of somber.
for 4 nights i lay beside you
and witnessed you move and breathe.
knowing each one, ragged and
smooth could be the last one.
i listened like a mother listens
to her baby sleep…each move witnessed
but you didn’t wake again.
i learned to care for you and yes,
i was afraid of every fluid and chortled gasp.
so so so grateful I am, for that week before
for all the laughing and the complete
peace between us. amen. amen. amen.
grateful for a lifetime of unconditional love
given and received. thank you.
your last breath came
while having tea at our usual time
with you. my love and I reading to you from
your Mentor’s books about the sculptor within
and the stone that must weep.
when you no longer breathed I kept
reading and reading you a prayer of
sculptor’s tools through my watershed of tears.
we sang to you and washed you
with precious bay oil and tender heart oil from the
red headed women and bowls of water with squash blossoms
we marked you with pure chalk from white egg shell
for purification, protection and cleansing (Cascarilla)
we filled your spaceship with pine
as a tree of life spine running the whole
distance. layers upon layers of lavender, bay,
eucalyptus and Alice’s lemon balm all around you
and yellow flowers around your head
a single fig leaf at your crown
a tiny bouquet of a rose from your garden from Mary.
a sign that spelled love and a heart made
of paintbrushes and clay face from long ago.
and of course, your poem from my mother.
a red thread was placed in your hands
with that one paintbrush and carried
outside the box to our waiting hands.
from your hands to our hands.
they say those who are supposed to meet
are connected by an invisible red thread
since before birth. i believe.
we tied feathers to your red thread
and wrapped your box in a weaving.
raven. owl. woodpecker and turkey vulture.
many of us came to you and to me
and hundreds prayed through these days.
your spaceship was hand built from the
land and hand painted by many of us who love you.
we studied your images
and tried to make your signs
and coordinates on the spaceship
so ‘all of you’ could find your way home.
i struggled with star configurations
and arrows and dna helixes and patterns
that you know so well. encodings.
I didn’t look in the clean clothes
for your final resting garment, although
I did consider it as being those famous
striped overalls. (those will be framed
or auctioned at Christy’s)
your final resting garment was
pure un-gessoed fine Irish linen
the color of new wheat.
you would have preferred we paint on it
but this decision was mine to make.
just that morning i prayed for bolt of linen
only to walk into your studio
and find it there waiting
still in it’s wrapper for a future
painting i will never get to see.
we swaddled you like a newborn
welcoming you home.
October 2, 2014
For Sue Hoya Sellars