by Eva Saulitis
Why? Why is a crooked letter, my mother-in-law used to say. She held
no truck with useless inquiry, superstition. Buck up. Be present. Suffer
no fools, no dogma. When she died, I sleuthed her shelves. She read
everything - Buddhist philosophy, AARP magazine. The Art
of Loving, Hawaiian poetry, books on aging, Asian painting,
and dying. She stopped short of a PhD in English lit, took acting. No
shrinking violet, she wore tennis whites on Sundays, permed and dyed
her hair various reddish shades, waited for her husband weekdays with
wine glasses frosted in the deep freeze. You little ingrates, wait till your
father gets here. Protested his pollarding of her ornamental trees
in the garden. A closetful of peacock-hues to counter his muted same-same.
Years after he died, we found the glasses, the bottle of cream sherry still
frozen. She never gave his clothes away. You better know how to laugh
at yourself, she said. Afraid she'd take me for the shrinking violet, the
suffering fool, tucked into the shade of a summer day, why, my crooked
angel, I kept quiet, secretly studied her takings, finger along the spine of books
and facts. Her sons sang her past the last breath, hospital bed on
the living room's shag. In the mail we got her Hiroshima prints, a 1950s lamp,
a volume of bad Hawaiian poetry, costume jewelry, one conundrum - wooden
statute of mother Mary praying. To her tough and inscrutable hide, I offer up this day.
Our days are a carousel of change and chances. We feel we are at last approaching some hard-earned purchase on the slope of our lives, only to lose our footing on the hard scrabble and helplessly fall away. We try again, we work at it, we latch on, and what happens next always surprises us. This haunting, intimate poem by Eva Saulitis, poet and biologist from Homer, Alaska, is from a book of poetry titled, "Prayer In Wind," published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. The book's flap copy reveals to the reader:
"After a devastating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, biologist and poet Eva Saulitis found herself gripped by a long buried childhood urge to pray. Finding little solace in the rote 'from the fox-hole please Gods' arising unbidden in her head, she set herself the task of examining the impulse itself, waking every morning in darkness to write poems, driven on by the questions: What is prayer? What am I praying to? What am I praying for? Who is listening? Each day's poem proposed a new and surprising answer as, over two years, she traced the questions back to her origins..."
What is comprised by this book of 58 numbered "prayer poems" is nothing short of a deep and openhearted song to living. To ancestry, geography, context, accident. To all that connects us to the earth and to one another; to the small stories that make us the quirky, eccentric souls that we are; to what we leave behind in the hearts of others and what we keep from those we love. It is never not the right time to pause in our ceaseless climbing and look out from where we find ourselves. Take in the expanse of life, the shadows of the forests left behind. What beckons on the horizon.
Ask of life again, Why?