Catherine

by the Night Writer

The last of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother, is fading away. I don’t know if she will last until I, too, become a grandparent later this summer. Her tiny frame shrinks a little more each day, her grasp on time and place as shaky as her fingers trying to take hold of a coffee cup. She’s 93, and so restless she won’t stay in her room at the nursing home, setting out in her wheelchair at all hours, or thinking that she just got back from another town some distance away.

I can’t blame her. If I was in her place and had a single thought it would be “What am I doing here?” I don’t know that I could shake the sense that I belonged someplace else, someplace I couldn’t quite remember, or someplace I had heard about, or someplace just a little bit beyond the hazy cloud wall in my mind, someplace…just …not here.

My mother holds her hand, holds her own breath. Holds the memories of all that has been, holds off the thoughts of what will be. When we are babies our parents hold us, carry us, anticipate our needs for rest, for food, for a change because we have no words for what bothers us. When dissatisfied, or frightened, we wail and our parents make comforting noises. Long years later, the children sit and anticipate the needs of the parent , who may have the means to speak, even if it is only to ask “Why?”, and the response, again, is comforting noises.

I don’t know “why”. I wish I did. Or perhaps I don’t. At some point this summer I will lean over a crib and say, “Sh-sh-sh-sh, it’s all right.” And I will think of another time, and another place, and I will think of a poem I read recently.

Susanna
by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it’s something that
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.


“Susanna” by Anne Porter, from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006

2 thoughts on “Catherine

  1. This is extremely bittersweet and makes me want to call up my own grandma who is 87 and still spry…but 87 nonetheless.

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