Louisa Wolf

After My Grandson Died



So much of what we did and said was out of des­per­a­tion. When you can’t do the urgent thing–undo a death–there is an impulse to act. Pray, com­plete a rit­u­al, shov­el dirt or toss ros­es into a grave, build a memo­r­i­al, ded­i­cate a bench, release but­ter­flies. We did none of these. My sis­ter and I bought gro­ceries, chopped pep­pers, mopped my daugh­ter’s bath­room. My son cooked. The oth­er grand­moth­er stirred potions and walked the dog. Within hours of learn­ing the baby’s name, my sis­ter-in-law plant­ed a bed of flow­ers with a stone for “Lando’s Garden.” Equally pow­er­less ges­tures at an indif­fer­ent void.


Even scrub­bing the toi­let was futile. The chore was com­fort­ing but the min­er­al stain beyond scour­ing. Like cut­ting soup, some­one said. I dried the sink and agony rushed back in.


We thought to get a memen­to. A beau­ti­ful urn for the baby’s ash­es, but Lilah and Ben said no. A sil­ver charm of the baby’s foot­print. Photographs. Greg the mor­ti­cian had a cat­a­logue of inscribed pen­dants and lock­ets. At the air­port, I gave it to Lilah’s friend June, along with a fold­er of lit­er­a­ture (“After the Funeral”). She liked the keep­sakes, though thought Lilah might scoff.


Back at home, at work, I can only con­cen­trate a while. It is ten min­utes to the Art Institute. The first day back, I pow­er-walked there in pinch­ing shoes, an unclipped toe­nail pun­ish­ing its neigh­bor. I stum­bled onto the first exhib­it, Onchi Koshiro prints. The tableaus were impres­sions of leafs, string, fab­ric, petals, paper blocks and fish fins. He took nature’s fin­ger­prints with paint, cap­tur­ing del­i­cate whorls and branch­ing cap­il­lar­ies. His nature morte was tru­ly morte: the leaf off the branch, the fin off the body, the petal off the bloom. Gone from life, yet per­ma­nent in composition.


They soothed me, if only for a moment.


I exit­ed into the hall with its giant Buddhas, its Krishnas, giv­ing on to aisles of Bodhisattvas and Ganeshes. I sat briefly, then was drawn, not to a stat­ue, but to the wall oppo­site. What I’d always tak­en for mar­ble or stone bricks were not. They were blocks stamped with shells, like fos­sils. Serrated cock­les, incon­gru­ous arks, tib­ias and whelks. The array that my par­ents col­lect­ed, comb­ing Sanibel Island. Shellprints, three-dimen­sion­al echoes of Koshiro. Also, beau­ti­ful. Also, peaceful.


Later that day, or that week, I spoke again to June. She’d giv­en Lilah the cat­a­logue. But of course, Lilah already knew bet­ter. Perhaps a tat­too of Lando’s foot­print, near her own foot. I thought of the shells, each crea­ture’s fine­ly tex­tured image. The indeli­ble skele­tons of Koshiro’s blades and fronds. My grand­son’s print, insis­tent­ly press­ing into his moth­er’s skin.




Louisa Wolf’s work has been pub­lished in many jour­nals includ­ing Agni and Matter Press. She has an MFA from Bennington College and lives out­side of Chicago.