Saturday, February 23, 2013

early memory at Crystal Lake

Untied, a woven
cotton bathing suit
slips to the floor
around my feet,
red, ruffled
like a rose.
Mother creams
my sunburned shoulders
and I lie tenderly back
in the big bed,
stare up
at bare wood rafters
enlarged by lamplight.
She will leave,
I alone of the family
upstairs, under the sheet
white as fear.
If only
the shadowy rafters
looked kindly down
like the oaks and birches
above our earlier walk
to the big lake,
my hand in hers
past fusty porches,
past Frostic’s musical
gate of art and mystery,
past the assembly hall’s
black windows,
into the sunny circle of ferns
and off with sneakers!
a race up the short dune
in blind anticipation
and sand as fine and cool
as mother’s face powder.
Up, over and running free
to the blue water
that is like a deeper sky
for me to fly in,
waves whispering
hush, come
until exhausted
I give up
and sit on the beach, shivering,
burning, sand blowing
against my cheeks
like mother’s good-night kisses,
her freshly washed skin
white, smooth, her fragrance
of sweet water
receding from me,
always calling and receding
in whispering waves.


  1. Very, very beautiful, Ruth, and a wonderful tribute to your mother. I love those last lines about your mother's fragrance "always calling and receding in whispering waves."

    1. George, thank you for your very kind words. My experiences at Crystal Lake, though they ended at around age 6, provide some of the deepest and most joyful memories of my life.

  2. Love the superimposed imagery of mother and adventure, both like waves coming and leaving in this beautiful memoir piece.

    1. Thank you, Rosaria. Early childhood memories seem saturated with feeling than later ones.

  3. Memories like waves, and water but a deeper sky to fly in (off with sneakers!), and mother's love abounding. If only she wouldn't leave...but she will never recede. Beautiful, Ruth. Thank you.

    1. Hello, my friend. Thank you for responding with feeling, always. There is so much bound up in this place for me. Mostly good, but also the beginning of fearful nights.

    2. Yes, those nights appear, briefly
      "I alone of the family
      upstairs, under the sheet
      white as fear." (very Woolfian image, that; very Woolfian poem, except for the trees, which erin understood better than me)

      Anyhow, what matters is that it's here, and you wrote it.

    3. You understood well enough, and much about the receding mother.

      Thank you for feeling Woolf here. I am astonished daily by her skill. I simply point to her.


  4. it is all light and beautiful - of course, until it isn't and you forwarn us with the white sheet of fear and the promise of being left alone. oh god, how lonely we can be/we are and how we ache for the safety of such sensual simplicity. (always. we always ache backwards, don't we, toward those first spinning places?)

    and while your mother, our mothers, are the safe places, i recognize the safe place of the world too, the alchemy and cleansing nature of both the beach and the trees,

    "If only
    the shadowy rafters
    looked kindly down
    like the oaks and birches
    above our earlier walk"

    the natural world heals us even in our solitude, even inside the danger of being.

    ruth, i love this poem very much))))


    1. O what, if not for our mothers (and mother earth). As I read your words I think of James (and your two) and how necessary it is to give them safety — emotional, physical, spiritual — which is this touchstone for all future unsafeness. We can also mother ourselves, can learn to do it if we were not mothered well enough. But I think no one is ever mothered well enough, because she can't see inside our little minds into fears, which simply can't be expressed. It takes such intimacy to understand, both ways. I did not have it with my mother, which is why she was always receding. Truly, my older siblings parented me, perhaps more than she.

      Thank you.))))

  5. It's funny what we remember, sister, of what scared us. It was g'pa's portrait in the upstairs hallway, whose eyes followed you no matter where you stood. In real life he wouldn't have scared a mouse, which is the irony of it all.

    I love seeing our past history through your eyes, some 11 years later than mine. It almost always feels like a different story...and family!

    1. That portrait frightened me too. And later, was it the same one at the top of the Harrison St. stairs?

      We could also talk about devotions, where I think I learnt to read on your (or Nanny's) lap, following your finger across the Bible page.

  6. i miss my mother and these words made me feel her loss with an exquisite sadness. the sunburned shoulders and the receding waters resonated deeply.

    (ruth, i have to tell you your 'be wary' post at 'small' was exactly what i needed to hear today.)


    1. So, we are in a similar place today. I needed the Lao Tzu as well, and I feel my mother's absence (which was then as much as now). Thank you. xx

  7. "always calling and receding
    in whispering waves."

    This last line has me drifting off into in whispering wave,,,
    They seem to be always calling to me.

    This poem made me feel like a warm blanket was wrapped around me

    1. Thank you, Liz. I love the hushed waves of Lake Michigan.

      Yes, there is warmth in this poem, and there is a bit of the fear that was growing then and bloomed in full as the years progressed. Thank god I don't have it now, but it lasted well into adulthood.

  8. This is beautiful. Wonderful visuals accompanied it. It's been so long since I've stopped by. Hope all is well with you and I imagine you are having fun with your grandson.

    1. Hello, Sandy! It's great to see you. We are all well, and toddler James is especially great! They're coming tomorrow for the weekend, and I can't wait. I trust that you and your grandchildren are also having fun. They must be getting quite big. xo

  9. yes, lovely images Ruth, of sea and sand, the childhood immersion in them, that (recognizable) sense of being unwell and left alone, and yet, one's mother if not beside us, around, at least that's what I remember...but as you say, a child's fears can never be known by a parent, that's maybe just how it is...thank you for this!

    1. Thank you, Morelle! Yes mom was around and keeping the household of 10 running quite smoothly.


All responses are welcome.