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.