Brambles, Buttress, Sky
“And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,”
-“Church Going” by Philip Larkin
My brother told my mother that if he had to find
the cemetery where our maternal grandparents are buried,
he would be able to find it without getting lost.
I sat in a room at the Super 8 right off the Interstate,
watching the rainbow effect of a broken screen on the TV
distorting The Learning Channel and turning commercials
into multicolored spectacles. I printed off google map
directions to the cemetery, to find my grandparents.
But I’m afraid of getting lost beyond the city in the woods
surrounded by death and emptiness and trees.
My grandmother gave three thousand dollars to St. Patrick’s
Catholic Church in Mason, Michigan. She wrote a check in her shaky
familiar grandma handwriting after her pastor said that he prayed
that a new sign could come to the church. She never got
a thank you, there wasn’t a little brass plaque with her name
at the bottom of it. God, the angry guilt-gifting Catholic one,
is apparently also bad with Thank You notes, admitting when
he needs help, and showing gratitude just like me.
My mother has a picture on her wall, of the Western world’s
interpretation of the friendly bearded
red-robed Jesus smiling comfortingly at a ghost
image of the Twin Towers in New York City.
I don’t know why invisible comfort makes her
feel better than the real thing she could find
from me. Her life – drunk father, abusive ex, controlling mother,
now spent clutching beads, surrounded by paintings
of her messiah’s death, saying words and looking up.
When I look up I see nothing but sky.
I’m allergic to band-aids.
No, I don’t mean that to be a joke. Everyone laughs.
They always think the paradoxes of health are amusing.
“No, really, you have allergies and you’re allergic to antihistamines?”
My mother says God elected to give me allergies
instead of her dyslexia. She prayed for this to happen.
Her prayers made me allergic to band-aids.
I remember an otherwise dull day in April two-oh-oh-five
she called me in tears. “Dear, take your rosary. Go to mass.
The Pope died.” I told her she hadn’t given me a rosary.
All the rosaries she owned were family heirlooms
and my hair-brained move 500 miles away was not worthy
of packing up great-grandmother’s silver rosary.
“There is no way I would have sent you that far away
without something to protect you.”
When my grandmother died my mother took down every photo.
I hid them away one by one until I moved out on my own.
When my mother came to visit me she cried and apologized
for hiding away something that meant so much to me.
She asked if I remembered the funeral. I shivered.
It had begun to rain as the people I don’t remember
moved dirt into the ground. And my mother in tears
begged me to play my flute. I was shivering.
“Please,” she looked at me in that helpless puffy
mascara-strewn face “it will make me feel better.”
No music stand, no coat. Just me and my mother and dirt.
I never inherited the ability to say no to her.
Tiffany Grayson is an alumna of the University of Northern Iowa where she worked at the North American Review. Later she co-edited Blood Lotus. She has poems forthcoming in Femmeuary and spends her time writing, reading, mothering, quilting, and tweeting.