Friday, July 27, 2012

Legacy of Ocean Point II: My Aunt Elizabeth

Aunt Elizabeth's cottage in Ocean Point, Maine
I wrote this poem to Aunt Elizabeth sometime in the 80's when I  had just crossed the threshold into middle age. Aunt Elizabeth survived until her late 90's and died in 2001. She was born and raised on the coast of Maine and her spirit and the spirit of Ocean Point (where she and her family spent their summers) were inseparable. When she could no longer maneuver her aging body across the coastal rocks, she would set out in a skiff, rowing from Grimes Cove all the way out to open sea.

To Aunt Elizabeth
You were the one
Who taught me to work with clay,

How to wait out a rainy or foggy day
Creating clumsy replicas of birds
Like the ones who came to your feeder.

You taught me to mark the weather's change
By the pattern of morning cobwebs
On the lawn,

And where to go for blueberries
With a bucket over my arm;

And I followed where your grownup feet would go,
Lithe under branches, supple over rocks.

Yours was the hand I could always let go of,
Wading through slippery rockweed up to my waist,
Small and exposed on the margin of the sea.

You warned me sometimes, but only in a way
That a seasoned explorer might warn
A bold apprentice.

And now you are old:
Your reluctant bones resist
The crags and contours of this granite coast,

And I wander alone,
Lithe under branches, supple over rocks,
A mile down the coast, alone
To the places both of us loved.

I have wondered at times whether it is best
To leave you behind or refuse myself those pleasures
Of the hidden caves:  the Dragon and the Witch,
Or the wide and shallow tide pool you call Diana's Bath.

I know you don't want to be helped
Like some antique statue boosted across a rock
That you cannot climb yourself,
Or carried like fragile cargo across a crevice.

You cannot possibly know
How much it hurts to lose you,
Like seeing the ocean slipping back,
Revealing, bit by bit,
In tidepool and in tiny crack.
So many small and vulnerable lives.

I will try not to burden you with this,
But respect your freedom
As once you respected my own.

The next wave coming in will be mine alone
To take its thrust with courage, or else give in;

Mine will be one of the hands
You can let go of.

1 comment:

  1. This always makes me cry. How many years has it been since she died and how long ago you wrote this? I wonder if you should include a preamble saying when you wrote it and that she has passed...Such a lovely tribute for such a lovely woman.