original writing: MatriliniumJuly 11, 2012
I started this bit in 2000 when I realized that after grilling my grandmother, Jean the Difficult, for years and getting only snippets of stories, however intriguing, that I’d have to make up the rest. Other bits I knew first hand.
But something was missing and I couldn’t fix it, so I tossed it in a box. Then, on a recent beachcombing vacation in Ogunquit, Maine, I was crashing through the thigh-high surf and suddenly, after years of not thinking about it, I not only recalled this poem, but the closing bit came to me. Not perfect, not finished, but closer. This one’s for you, Grama. And for baby Violet.
I come from Scotland in the pocket of a con man on the run from a problem more serious than the ones that came before, when we dropped Blue and became Gorman at Halifax’s Pier 21.
I come from the soot-and-grease-smudged apron of his wife, a hard-working Québécois who fed and clothed their five sons in her family’s lumber business.
I come from the stinky wool of the scarves, toques and mittens of those sons, who carried their mother’s body three days in the searing January Quebec cold to the closest Catholic graveyard.
I come from the large black metal lunch pail of the son of one of those brothers, a tall shy factory worker in Winnipeg who silently and smilingly bore the pain of a broken finger when his second daughter, the quiet one, the favorite one, hurled herself at him with such abandon on an otherwise ordinary day. He never knew why.
I come from under the expertly placed hat of Ma Tante Delphine, a maiden aunt in Montreal so bereft when World War II ended and she had to return my infant uncle Frederic to my grandmother that she took out back the high chair she’d bought just for Frederic and with a neighbour’s axe she swung with the woodsman’s skill that was in her blood and chopped it to matchsticks.
I come from my grandmother’s box of fabric that clothed me in white satin and eyelet cotton, through the rites of baptism, communion, confirmation. From the robin’s egg blue broadcloth with matching nightgown trim that saw me and my doll through nights too loud to sleep.
I come from the bottom of a plastic tumbler stained red by cheap wine, hidden behind the sewing machine, where my grandfather would never have thought to look, would not have had to.
I come from the secret compartment in the family crucifix, beside the holy water, where I hid my mother’s extra sleeping pills, but not enough of them.
I come from the index card she left behind in the divorce, where the secret ingredient in the family recipe for orange cake was left off, because “if your father knew it had sour milk in it, he’d never have tried it in the first place.”
I come from what ee cummings named, from the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart and i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
And I come from right now,
I come from you,
From the place behind your eyes as you read this.
Where you carry my heart in your heart
That’s where I come from.