Like most people…

Like most people, the first time I saw a ghost it was hanging over the bathroom sink. Part of him was me but most of him was not. What was most recognizable about him was the fact that it would take very little effort to shatter him into shards.

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Memorial – Ruth Detjen

I recently went to a memorial service for the mother of a friend.

You can tell a lot about a person by the things people say about them when they’re not around, and by the memories of the people who love her.

They talked about strawberry shortcake and Volkswagens; falling trees and fireworks; telephone calls and Pretty in Pink. But what they were really talking about was love.

You can also tell a lot about a person by the memories and thoughts she shares through her art.

Ruth’s family offered her paintings to the gathering, an invitation to take a piece of her home with us.

The colors and mood of this one grabbed my attention:

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Ruth was also a poet, and we went home with a book of her poems, written over all the decades of her adult life. Here are four of the ones that found a place in my memory:

Secrets

There are no secrets.

They are plainly seen

in the pain and sadness

of a woman’s eyes.

Old Cup

The gossamer veins in the porcelain cup

Reveal a pattern,

like the crinkled folds in a love letter

impulsively crumpled, then rescued, smoothed.

The cup comforts my hand, warming, loving –

its healing roundness a balm of

honey mint and tea.

If this cup was carelessly dropped,

Shattering into fragments like falling stars,

if this should happen,

Falling, shattering, scattering china amidst

dust and crumbs on the floor –

I would sweep it all up, then carefully select

Just one piece – the largest, smoothest curve

of pure white china –

and place it gently on the window sill

in the warm pristine morning light.

Ladies of the Day Room 1956

tired of searching for a wandering,

feisty old person singing

Christmas Carols to herself and

muttering in German, they put her away.

They took me to see her in the

state hospital.

I saw patients being

led through the halls with staring

opaque glass eyes and silly smiles.

A beaming round faced colored woman

padded over to us on swollen feet and ankles

spilling out of her green institutional

slippers

told me in her lilting voice about the fish

she caught last night, cooked it

at it and it was so good,

smacked her lips, praised the Lord

laughing showing a

gold tooth.

And she was led away, humming to herself.

My grandmother – think, boney – paper-skinned

complexion as white as her hair,

fire barely flickering in her pale blue eyes

looked blankly at us.

she was hell on wheels, once.

Agitated, she asked “where’s Mama?

there’s something I have to ask her

when are we getting off this train?”

Grandma gripped my had so tightly,

I thought it would break.

Lost Dream

Waking with a delicate thread of a dream

just at the fringes of memory –

I should have grabbed a pencil, jotted down

the elusive thoughts and tied them

to paper before they slipped away.

the longing sensation lingers in my consciousness

somewhere under the busy-ness

of the day.

If only the thoughts had a name –

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Ruth Detjen and her daughter Amy