By Thelma T. Reyna
PURPOSE IN WRITING THIS BOOK (ARTIST STATEMENT, FROM THE “FOREWORD”)
I tell you all this with reverence for what we, all of us, don’t know, and with dismay that many of us live every day with unmoored assumptions of our longevity. We clock in and out of interactions with one another, march lockstep in perfunctory duties that we can do, words we can mouth, with dissociation from brain and heart. Not all of us, not all the time. But enough of us, and often enough, that when a loved one is ripped away suddenly, the pain is exponential, epidemic, touching all of us like the ever-spreading concentric circles of an atomic bomb.
Hardly a day passes that I don’t think of an incident, a conversation, no matter how trivial, that I had with my husband, particularly in the last two years of his life, when his health was failing, wherein I am not moved by regret at what I said or failed to say to him. I wish the wife back then knew clearly what the widow now knows…about impermanence, about ensuring that our loved ones know clearly and unfailingly how much they mean to us, how much they enrich our lives, because we’re telling them regularly, with heart and soul.
In my small book here, I attempt to show how these threads of life are interwoven, with relationships evolving and surviving as love, family, and nature line up to mitigate the stab of loss. It is a modest memoir of my husband’s life, and our life together, as well as a tribute to his goodness and devotion. May our dearest Papa be gazing, listening, and smiling his resplendent smile from his other-worldly home.
–Thelma T. Reyna
HANDS HOLDING FIRM
If hands could laugh, ours would’ve pealed our way
through Rome’s catacombs, Spanish Steps, thousand cats
lounging in Coliseum ruins,
and everywhere we roamed on every wheel that
turned—buses, taxis, trains—hands holding firm to
one another, vacationers in love, when we were
young, languoring with afternoon hands circling
warm on weary flesh, sun gilding balconies
outside french doors and marble floors in
alabaster rooms built centuries ago, where
foreign hands speak sentences and poems in
flourishes, and icon cities are for
lovers with palms clasped whenever we strolled
cobblestones, our paths just one, one direction,
together regardless of where.
in the evening, after dinner,
you’d take a blanket and our two kids
to the hood of our car
in the driveway, help them
clamber to the warmth and lean
against the windshield, you
bookended between both,
all with legs extended, faces pasted
to celestial darkness
and tiny shards of stars
that you identified to them,
your arm extended like
a pointer, their mesmerized eyes
following your finger picking out constellations–
naming names, swooping your
arm from Little Dipper to Big,
from Venus and Calliope to
the Bear, the Archer, the
Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, and
explaining “light years” in primary
school terms, chatting about
spaceships and suits, about planets
spinning ‘round the sun, our
earth a large blue marble,
with the math teacher turned
astrophysicist unfurling to his
precious children the infinite
grace and luminescence
THIS IS HOW GRIEF GOES
“When we are grieving, people may wonder about us,
and we may wonder about ourselves.”
When loss is swift, when it strikes like a viper in a pot,
blunting hopes and well-laid plans, the hole
that swallows us is bottomless and fierce.
Emptiness unspools like mummy’s tape, endless, frayed, muffling,
gagging, dooming lips and eyes to tombs devoid of words and light,
stripped of loving hands,
caverns of ululations.
Loss flattens us.
But this is how grief goes.
This is how we sink, to rise,
how brokenness is patched together again,
how despair ultimately defies death.
All of us are fallible. You should have offered me a chair when
your scrub nurse summoned me from the waiting
room. Mask pulled around your neck, you should have stood
when I entered, knowing as you did.
You should have spoken soft, looked me in the eye, said
you’re moving heaven and earth to save him. You should
have held my hand because you remembered you never
saw him without me.
But all of us are fallible. You sat, I stood, while
your pursed lips played your line not looking good
five times. Your warmest lines. As if any other
surgery, you said to me, return outside and wait.
You should have known he cupped his life into your
hands before your anesthesia sealed his eyes and stomped
his heart. You should have said I’m sorry so so very sorry
before you rose and walked away from me.
LIKE A POLITICIAN, NO TEARS
…my friend told me when the memorial ended, with a sidewise glance at my face as I stepped on clods and burrs on the narrow cemetery path wending my way to my husband’s open grave. “It was amazing,” he blurted.
“In your entire speech, not one tear. Like a politician!”
But yes there were tears. I smiled through them and he was fooled. I spoke softly to solemn faces and there were tears. I recounted my husband’s pain and there were tears. My friend, too far back, was fooled by calm.
For three days when my husband died, I cried ducts dry, endured stone throat that swallowed speech. Paths of sun and moon entwined till light and dark.
The paper of my speech was mottled and edges curled with wetness.
blank face, lips moving
-for they must, they must say words-
heart beating limply
broken hearts dissolve
the same in rain or sunbeams
…quiet, loud, unparsed
you liked: Rivers &
Towers, Antonio Banderas
Seduction in Black, and
bottle, poor country
mouse perched by
brass faucets, by marble
tiles on your side of the
sink, rubbing musky
the Macy’s guys
and you splashed
them joyously on chin
and neck, then spread their joy onto your
chest and arms, and…
yes, between your legs
but Brut was always best, your #1, elixir
from your high school days, your college
nights beneath stars
on country roads,
you handsome guy
that smelled so good
oh, there were other
bottles of parfum sprays
endorsed by rock
star studs, and after-
loud by rappers
and billionaire jocks–
bottles sitting on your closet shelves
but Brut took you
through banquets and
weddings, wafted you
through humdrum days
and luminous nights,
you in tuxedo and
modest Texas boy,
morphing in gravitas
with passing years,
you and Brut smelling so good
conjoined arm to
calm on my side of the
sink, manly bottles your
manly hands held, holding your
your scent, your
face, in morning
hours and empty
Like a string of precious pearls, royal pearls, your life was this.
We might add “Son” for the mother who abandoned you when you
were two but did so with a sundered heart. Without conditions, your
forgiving heart found her decades gone, and healed hers.
We might add “Brother” for three half-brothers and half-sister your
father gave. Though miles and circumstances cleaved your paths, you
later won their love.
We might add “Neighbor” for our fellows up and down our street,
from backgrounds vast, small, dark, light, folks who’d greet you, and
you them, every morning, every day for years.
In any storm or brilliant day, in dusty village or world-class town, in
leafy road or busy street, your humanity shone like a lamp in
destitute alleys, like a comet in swirls of stars. Shone unforgettable.
THELMA T. REYNA, Ph.D.
Thelma T. Reyna’s books have collectively won 16 national literary awards. She has written six books: a short story collection, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories; two poetry chapbooks—Breath & Bone and Hearts in Common; and three full-length poetry collections— Rising, Falling, All of Us; Reading Tea Leaves After Trump, which won six national book honors in 2018; and Dearest Papa: A Memoir in Poems, (Golden Foothills Press, 2020). As Poet Laureate in Altadena, 2014-2016, she edited the Altadena Poetry Review Anthology in 2015 and 2016. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, and regional media for over 25 years. She was a Pushcart Prize Nominee in Poetry in 2017. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA.
For information about Thelma T. Reyn and her work please go to https://www.authorthelmareyna.com/