Tag Archives: Death of a loved one

Plummeting

Three years ago, I wrote a blog entitled “Plummeting.” Although it describes an event that occurred almost seventeen years ago, the subject is still a timely one, so I’m going to reblog it. It is linked to a blog entitled “Soaring” that completes the message.
Please join the Daily Addiction prompt site. It is easy and they post consistently. Today’s  prompt word, as you might have guessed, is plummet.

lifelessons - a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

Plummeting

The weekend before, we had had our last moving sale and had nearly cleared out our very overladen house in California.  We’d sold as much of our accumulated lives as possible–a 125 years (sum of our two ages) combined total of collecting art as well as material and tools for making art.  We were shedding the detritus of our old lives to begin a new life in the house we had just purchased in Mexico.  Our van was fully packed with not one inch of spare space other than a place for our cat and two more suitcases we would add when we finally took off for our retirement in Mexico.  We had only one more appointment–to talk to our doctor about the results of Bob’s last physical examination, which had included an ultrasound.

We’d been on a high for months as we prepared to head out for our…

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Footnote to the Revolution

Footnote to the Revolution

The red clay from the cane field in your hair,
leaves pressed into my neck from lying in the tall stalks,
we heard in the trees
the movements of the shepherd
who had watched.
Later, at the Filowaha baths,
we washed ourselves from each other
and slept in a room
rattled
by the eucalyptus.
I would have wanted you more in that room
if I’d known about the bullet
already starting its trajectory through the minds
of men spending youth fresher than ours
in revolution.
I remember watching your shave
in the lobby barber shop,
your face mummied by the steaming towels.
I tasted bay rum afterwards
as we shared cappuccino.
Parked at the roadside near enough to hear our parting,
I imagine they drank katikala,
its bite sealing brotherhood
your blood would buy in the street
outside the Filowaha baths.

 

 

 

 

In 1973-74, I journeyed to and lived in Ethiopia. It was not my original intention to do any more than visit and pass through, but fate had a different plan in mind. I was first detained by violence, then by love. The Filowaha baths in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were probably the equivalent of the “No Tell Motels” in Mexico, but for Andy and me, they were a place to be alone, to soak in hot water together and to make love with no listening ears. I guess that is what they were to everyone who visited, but there was nothing illicit in our relationship. We were both single and in what at the beginning we thought was a committed relationship that would end in marriage. His family had accepted this. My parents, thousands of miles away, had long ago given me the message that they did not want to know anything that, as my mother had stated, “would make them feel bad.” My sister knew, but they never did.

This poem actually chronicles two different visits to the Filowaha baths–one near the beginning of our relationship and the other our last night before I departed to fly back to the United States. On this second visit, we both knew we would probably never see each other again. Once again, we had figured out that the relationship wasn’t going to work, and our own feelings were complicated by the revolution that was already raging around us. We had both just spent a month in the hospital–Andu Alem recovering from the bullet that had gone all the way through his body as he defended me from a man whose intention was to kill me. Not able to return to my house, I had stayed in the hospital with him so we could both be guarded by his father’s soldiers.

Years later, when I made my first assemblage boxes, I made this music box that told the story I’d already told in the poem years before. The song it plays is “The Way We Were.” I’m now trying to tell the story a third time in a book. Now that I know the true ending to our story, I might have changed the poem, but I leave it as I once thought it was. There are many truths in our lives, according to which vantage point we are telling them from.  This story is as true as the very different story I will eventually tell, if I have the courage to face up to it. Please enlarge the photos go see the details which should be self-explanatory. The hand I sculpted out of clay. I photographed the assemblage box on the table where I had been rereading letters I’d written home from Ethiopia as well as letters Andu Alem and other friends living in Ethiopia had written me once I returned to the states.

Swallowing Truth

Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leaving our mutual friend (my lover and his friend since childhood) in Africa. He had worked diligently to get his friend to leave Africa and I had urged him to as well, but he had repeatedly refused to do so.

Half a country apart, we met only once after coming to the States and talked twice on the phone—the last time when he informed me of the assassination of our mutual friend about a year after I’d returned to the States. Since then, I’ve gone on to new loves and new lives, but I’ve written many times about those years in Africa, idealized my lover and imagined him to be the hero in death he’d always been to me in life.

Then, miraculously, two days ago (one day after I’d thought of trying to locate him myself and over forty years since I’d last talked to him on the phone) I received a message from my old friend asking me to friend him on Facebook and yesterday, we shared a two-hour phone call. Much of that phone call was taken up by his telling me the whole truth about my lover’s death in Africa forty-three  years ago.

“He loved you, Judy. He really loved you, and he was a different man with you. Perhaps if we had both stayed in Africa, his story would have turned out differently, but when we both left at once, he was lonely and looking for friends. They saw his charisma and charm and they drew him in. They gave him power.” This was when he told me the part of the story he had not told me so many years ago. This is when the truth of what happened after I left Africa came out. It has been a hard truth to swallow. My sister, who visited me in Africa and who knows more of that story than most, told me I should perhaps not talk to anyone else about what I had just revealed to her—to remain quiet for awhile and think this out for myself. Perhaps to write about it.

It is hard to write about such things without trivializing them, and I have tried for the past 24 hours to avoid doing so just as I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it. Neither plan seems to have worked. It was what I thought about all day, the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep, the first thing I thought about upon awakening when I saw today’s prompt, and it is what I’m thinking about now as I write the introduction to this poem. What do we do with old shattered memories that we’ve held in esteem for more than half our lives?  What do we do with the favorite photographs? How do we write about a love story turned into a horror story? I guess we do the best we can. This is my first attempt to deal with that whole truth.

Swallowing Truth

My life for now grown raw and hollow,
this bitter pill I cannot swallow.

Which path of memory to follow?

That handsome man, arms filled with flowers,
love-filled nights and fun-filled hours 
held fast in each others’ powers.

A small-town girl who lived through books,
twisting on romance’s hooks,

could not resist your charm and looks.

I could not guess the other side—
the violence your looks belied—
that truth that I must now abide.

New truths cast old beliefs asunder
as they gut and rip and plunder
those short years of joy and wonder.

Your truths are painful—sharply tined.
Miscast as hero in my mind,
you chose the other side, I find.

This is what your old friend said.
He said your power went to your head—
so many slaughtered the streets ran red.

How could the one who turned my heart
liquid from the very start
have torn so many lives apart?

These stories spun far in the past
have come together here, at last,
can’t be forgotten, the die is cast.

Beware the truths that you might seek.
Truth has a non-discerning beak
that rips asunder the frail and weak.

Be careful what you ask and do
in opening the past anew.
The truth you swallow may swallow you.

 

The prompt word today is swallow.

Parts of Him

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Parts of Him

You look so like him on our passing—
that strongly muscled arm,
his hair brushing your shoulder,
but you do not have his charm.

Your hands curl in a gesture
so familiar in its kind,
but they do not form the magic
his hands mold within my mind.

Your smile is so like his—
that chortle when you laugh—
but I see you cannot be him
as we pass upon the path.

Your stance is his, your bearing
when I see you from afar.
It’s just as we draw nearer
I see who you really are.

These long years since his passing,
I still look for him in places
where in the crowds I search him out
in unsuccessful faces.

Each similar demeanor
reaches out a tentacle
to draw me to a likeness
that, alas, is not identical.

The prompt today is identical.

Restart

 

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Restart

Every tortured ending, every tearful parting
may simply be the means to another soul’s restarting.
Freshening up our memory, clearing off the clutter.
Making our way simpler, like a warm knife cutting butter.
Why do we fuss and bother? Why do we tear our hair
when we’re suddenly a single after being a pair?
Another game has started—to find each other again
in another life or this one. How can we know when?
Life is an adventure, a continual seeking
full of little wrinkles in need of constant tweaking.
We’re blind to the whole of it, but often get a peek
to help us find the goal that we are meant to seek.
We are the markers in a game whose players we don’t know—
impetuously wishing the game were not so slow.
We want to know our endings and what we will be getting
when in truth each ending will just be a resetting.

 

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The prompt today is restart.

Love Stories

 

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What fewer love stories there would be if we could see their endings—so many middles of romances left unread by those who read their last pages first. When I remember each past first kiss, it is in a mirror half obscured by the future reflected in it. One love is forever caught underwater where it gasps for air. Another is ashes floating out in rings to touch the edges of a lake which is shrinking inward from its banks, as though in complicity to aid their settling along its edges. Another lies in small droplets of blood on a road where it was ambushed, too late to be a message of anything but regret for love that died before the lover and a lover who died too soon. There are all these deaths of loves—like a class for the unfortunates who, kept in after school, are made to trace their lines again and again in the belief that love is taught by repetition and that wisdom comes from practice.

 

Nosegay

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Nosegay

The faint trace
of ashes and cardamom
sing in the air
you used to pass through.
They fit into my memory
 in their accustomed places,
your aroma lingering
years longer
than the touch of you.

 

The prompt today is faint.