I think about my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents
and those who went before –
all of them gone to the cool earth – yet
I feel their support. The subtle threads of connection reach
the other way too, shimmering in the blood of my son, his infant twins,
When I was a little girl I watched my mother and her mother intently,
as children do. They discussed ordinary tasks: the making of gravy,
the way to set the dinner table. I sensed a deep bond
between us: three generations of women connected by
genes and blood, place and time. They taught me what beauty is –
a perfect white camelia, a tender biscuit,
a sparkling emerald, a warm smile.
The lessons buoyed me in dark times
long after their deaths
of the past.
I visited my son and his new family: twin boys,
my grandchildren. I watched as they were
held and fed,
bounced and tickled. I gazed as intensely as
I did those long years ago when I watched my mother and grandmother.
I am still learning
where beauty is
in this hard world.
The boys fell asleep and we talked about the value of art,
about being a new therapist and being new to therapy. We talked about Ukraine,
where the twins’ mother was born. She had offered to help old friends from her
school days but they spurned the idea, wanting only
money for the troops.
Revenge over comfort.
The talk turned lighter then, to family resemblances. I said I could see
my grandfather in the twins’ faces, their high foreheads, their curious, solemn eyes.
My son carries his name, a tribute to his forge-ahead energy,
endearing quirks, his confident way of moving
through life. A stubborn, self-made man, he framed out
a secure place in life for himself and his family. Now my son,
easily a foot taller than his great-grandfather and inhabiting
a different world,
dreams the same dreams,
makes them real again.
The day after the visit I waded through a box of old photos
and papers looking for pictures of “The Colonel”
(as my grandfather was called) to send to J. She was curious
about my grandfather, wanted to know more about the
mythical man whose blood runs in her children’s veins. Head bent,
I rummaged through the box and pulled out a sixty-year-old letter
typed on onionskin and dictated by my grandfather
in reply to a researcher inquiring about his background.
He said he didn’t know
what his own grandfather did for a living. Maybe
they were too preoccupied with survival in the coal mine hollows
of West Virginia to remember their forebears’ lives. But
the Colonel got out.
He did well.
In the box, a scrawled list of Paris restaurants proves it.
Penciled on hotel stationery by my grandmother
in her energetic, round script, the list tells
who you can call if you can’t find good Scotch
(their favorite drink) and which restaurant has a good view
of l’Arc de Triumph. Halfway into the box I pulled out
a glossy, black-and-white, 8×10 of the two of them
enjoying drinks with friends at a crowded Manhattan restaurant.
Smiles all around.
Leafing through the fragile papers and photographs
I sensed a subtle vapor-like energy,
an ethereal column of mist wafting through my core
ribbon-like, down to the past generations and on
to my child and grandchildren. Warm feelings
washed over me –
like the oxytocin rush I get when I hold the babies, a
visceral connection to my
And in the box there was a cherished missive from the past, a poem
my mother transcribed before she died. I’d wondered
where I put it,
worried that I’d lost it but there it was, folded in thirds just like
the first time I found it, weeks after she died.
Fifteen months of fitful struggles with pancreatic cancer
I had taken time off from work and flown down to her house
to wade through the contents, exhausting work
in the best of circumstances made harder
by the sheer number of objects. Room to room, I sorted, never expecting
to find a carefully penned poem on yellow legal paper,
folded and tucked into a dresser drawer with
my mother’s socks and stockings.
I stopped to read (she knew that would happen).
I was glad to be alone as I listened to her voice
reciting the words, threading through time,
pulling the bond tight.
A heartstab of love
from the cool, rich earth
of the grave.
To Those I Love
If I should ever leave you whom I love
To go along the silent way,
Nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you there.
(I’d come – I’d come, could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief be barriers?)
And when you hear a song
Or see a bird I loved,
Please do not let the thought of me be sad
For I am loving you just as I always have
You were so good to me!
There are so many things I wanted still to do
So many things to say to you
Remember that I did not fear
It was just leaving you that was so hard to face
We cannot see beyond
But this I know;
I love you so
‘twas heaven here with you!
Isla Paschal Richardson
About the photographs:
All except the rock (#3) and the photo below were made using intentional camera movement (ICM). Most are one-second exposures at f22. Sometimes I moved my whole body, not just the camera, mimicking the waves coming ashore or the arcing outline of a rock. It was the day after I went through the box of papers, a day of rain and strong tides. I didn’t intend to do anything other than get outdoors between rain showers but I always have a camera with me and I wanted to do something different with it. Camera movement sprang to mind. The images seem to reflect the mood I was in – why wouldn’t they?