In honor of my daughter, Caroline Elizabeth Anderson, who died twenty years ago on Valentine’s night, I share this poem by Jim Moore. This was sent to me by my son as we “gear up” for our mid-February remembrance of his sister. I love you, too, Michael. I hope I’ve made it “seem natural to love what ends.”
THE LONG EXPERIENCE OF LOVE
(on being photographed while holding a photograph of my mother)
I can see right through her to the world
beyond the porch: a single bird
of paradise and two scaly palms.
When she could still see well enough
to care about shapes in the world,
gardens were the pleasure she most loved
to work. She is almost weightless
in my hand and keeps shaking,
though I try to hold her still,
so that others may see
what I see: a guardedness that cannot hide
the unmasked plea for love passed down
from mother to son.
Our lives are small things,
easy to miss. The truth is
they do not belong to us at all,
but must, in the end, be returned
to the sky: to that same mottled distance
so like the speckled blue of the bird shell
I found when I was six
and she was thirty-four.
It was broken, that little suitcase,
and the dried and wasted shine
of a fallen life was stuck to the shell.
How I cried then
because of the litter a death makes
when it falls into our world
for the first time. I raise my mother
to the day’s last light
for fear she might slip away
into darkness before I’ve had enough
of looking at her. My mother pretended
to love that broken shell
as much as I did
because this is what mothers do
when their children cry out to them, undone
for the first time by a world in ruins:
they make it seem natural to love what ends.
Jim Moore, Underground: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2014).