Images may arise from memory, from the unconscious, or from the living landscape in front of a poet’s face. As with dreams, those images arise of their own accord and a poet must heed their appearance, decide their relevance, and use his craft to connect to the mystery beyond his control. Here Timothy Young reports images of his long dead grandmother. They may or may not have been true in the outer world, but are true inside of him.
A Poet’s Grandmother Issues
In the years I have attended the Minnesota Men’s Conferences, we have talked about many of the psychological, social and spiritual issues men experience. Whatever the issue, conversations tend to go deep and we begin treading in unexpectedly dangerous, emotional territory. That is what happens at a good men’s conference. Then, through ritual, conversation, stories, poetry, and song, we get a glimpse of how men have faced such issues and survived those emotional dangers.
We have not spent much time talking about the role of the grandmother. We have talked of the crone and the hag, but rarely about the personal grandmother. Maybe because a grandmother’s power is more subtle and less direct. In my case as a maturing man I have become more conscious of how I have reacted to ‘grandmother’, as a person, a fantasy, and an archetype. I was the oldest grandson of two women. My mother’s mother was very active and overly dramatic about her lot in life. My father’s mother used her passivity to manipulate the family and her world. Her world was my family home, because she and my grandfather lived in the walk-out basement apartment of my father’s house. I literally grew up on what came from below.
As a poet, I use various exercises and methods to mine images in order to discover what is stored in my memory and my unconscious world, and I seek what wants to emerge into the light of awareness. I love the surprises and I become energized with curiosity by the images’ complexities and wonder-making. Those images (and my words describing the images) reconnect me to the depths of my existence. In recent years as my grandmothers re-emerged in my image-mining, I have begun to realize how their presences created and influenced our family’s culture and my own individual path through life. Here are four poems about one grandmother and her role in my family.
GEESE ON THE LAKE
Rafts of geese drift on the water
and echo one another across the lake.
An eagle chatters in the sunlight
and its rippling call
breaks through the goose talk.
The mid-day sky seems so large,
and I can’t see the predator anywhere.
Above the park a restless gang
of younger geese punctures the sky.
They are stretching their wings
and seeking the direction to new waters.
Then, I hear my dead grandma’s voice.
The eagle’s screechy phrase pitches
at the old woman’s rouse, “Wake Up, Timmy!”
* * *
TO THE BADLANDS
As a small boy I rubbed my teeth on car seat fabric
as Pall Mall smoke hid the blue road to the Badlands,
as bees splattered against the windshield,
as glass refracted the wild terrain.
Once, I watched Grandpa pedal his grindstone
as Grandma stared from the window—
moon-faced, thoughtless and bubbling with ire.
His foot pumped the wheel harder and harder.
Her anger was a spreading delta,
and sparks flew from his sharpening sickle.
So much passes between old spouses,
that hornets may squirm into their grandson’s bones.
* * *
GRAMPS AND THE SKUNK
Once upon a time, when life was in balance,
Gramps saw a skunk at the door.
With his trusty .22 he shot the critter
with a single bullet to the head.
But when Gramps approached
to give it a burial, the white stripe lifted
and quickly shot back
with an accurate squirt to his face.
Because he wore glasses, he didn’t go blind
but dunked his head in tomato juice,
over and over, yet the odor lingered,
and the children and Grandma stayed away.
So he took to his rowboat,
with his tackle, oars, and beer,
circling the lake and quietly trolling
in that perfect palace of stars.
* * *
WHAT WEIGHT DID I FEEL?
What weight did I feel because Dad’s Ma
lived in the walkout below us?
I was her first grandson.
How many grandkids did she eventually have?
She read prayer books and I read folklore and poetry.
Then I, too, flew far from her frantic, white hair.
While she was dying I saw that the dusty garage sagged
and nails’ heads had loosened from fading boards.
They say ocean plates move away from one another,
but I know that others collide with inevitable quaking.
– Timothy Young