She floated upon a gentle sea of melancholy, brave oars dipping.
She was awash with long ago laments which I could not guess.
Her movements were slow.
Her eyes never darted–they oozed from side to side,
tiny lagoons abutting her sea–
she spoke to me.
“I have had so much sadness in my life, young’un
time was I was a bright young thing
but life can wear you down–only so many things can go wrong
before you put your finger to your head and imagine it’s a gun.”
“Friends die,” she said, “I’m 93 and three husbands buried,
even most of the children dead.
Yet God keeps me lingering on, I think, way past my time.
My great grandmother had this sad dignity, layers of laments
speaking to herself as much as to me.
I wanted to know her, her life, and I was her great grandchild
eager to know who and where she came from.
She would sit, in her high-backed chair smoking little cigars
starting a story and then abandoning it. Some times she finished
a story but you never could be sure, because her voice would drift
off into memory.
“I was rambunctious” she was saying. “ran off the reservation, barely twenty–
they were trying to marry me off to an old white man, half blind, and crazy.”
“I was having none of that.
Walked right out and hopped the 401 freight, cap down, passing myself off as a boy.
Had me a good old time too.
Them days people hunkered down in the freight cars and never spoke, sipping
from a gin bottle looking for the next stop.”
“I was fine from the Dakotas to Chicago where in the last leg, a man noticed me
saying ‘You ain’t no boy, are ya?’
“Cutest boy, not much older than me, his pockets full of bread loaves and he
handed me one saying ‘You look hungry.’
“Gave me one of those big-as-a-house smiles of his and I was a goner from the start.
That is how love is sometimes–just comes over ya and you just hold on for dear life
because you are not in control. It was like that with me and him.
“Called me his ‘box-car baby’ and cuddled down with me for the final ride into
the city, eating bread and spinning dreams.
“Oh he was a dreamer, on the way to Chicago, he said, to get his share of some land his grandfather had left him in Alabam’. He was going to take that money he said and do big things–travel high wide and handsome, make him some money and find him a life mate cause times were too rough to travel through life alone.
‘When I die he said ‘I want to die in the arms of my honey, just like this,’ he said squeezing on me.
“It was not exactly a marriage proposal, but, he acted like it was and after a month of haggling with his kin in Chicago over who got what, he came out of the lawyer building waving a check saying ‘Let’s go get hitched.’ Just like that, he said it. Just like that.
“We was together thirty years and God saw fit to take him early.
Great Grand looked at me with those melancholy eyes and said “Things
since have never been the same with me. Never got over God taking him.
Didn’t seem fair.”
“Yes,” she said “life has a way of giving you a bit of heaven on earth, and then for me heaven just went away.”
A single tear formed behind her closed eye-lid, and, I imagined, dropped into her melancholy sea.