life is such a short summer

dear friends/readers/people i haven’t met yet,

i’ve been away.
and even upon physical return, it’s been difficult to bring myself back to the details. my body aches, sitting at the end of the day, and my eyes go blurry before the screen and there’s so much to catch up on and i’ve been time-traveling through fourteen years of letters from my dearer-than-dear departed rubyhearted kate which has been pulling me far away from 2012 and far from computertown. (the first time i’ve read her letters as a  collection.) what is far from computertown? it’s something like 12 layers down. ancient temple bricks. planetary dust. star matter. hand carved wood. fog lifting off fields before the first dazzle of sun. the shimmer of emerald hummingbird feathers. the earth under the earth under the earth. and the ocean at its edge.

(attempt at catching up)  :
i want to tell you about minneapolis fall. how long its been since i’ve breathed that fallen leaf crackling into bits on forest floor smell. how the edge of cool is a blade slicing the day open. i want to tell you about walking home side by side  from the park with my sister who looks so much like me that i understand what it might be like to fall into a fold of time where a past and present self meet. and my sister’s three-year-old speeding into the gray ahead of us on his pedalless starter bike in a time when the dark comes on earlier and earlier. the idea is that he won’t even need training wheels, she says.

i want to tell you how hard the wind tugged at debbie and i as we reconvened at the edges of lake nokomis. enough to pull tears out of my eyes and make me take my big square scarf of so i can make a joke about how we could each grab two edges and hold on as we parachute/hot-air-balloon back to my sisters. we were wearing matching shoes in different colors and we were trading terrors of the familial kind. mutual disinterest is a term i toss her way to describe dynamics we sometimes find ourselves in.

i want to tell you about a play at the frank theater called the way of water that amber and i went to. about four characters living in the gulf coast after the bp spill. how the storyline weaves in the sicknesses brought on by the dispersants released into the ocean water.  (bp  admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants, which can create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil.)

i want to tell you about the curtain of rain that fell as i waited at the milwaukee amtrak station. how when we pulled out of the station, the rain was rolling down the windows and the thunder and lightning were going off in the sky. whistle calling out. triple-feature is what i named it. a kind of equivalent to mind body soul. a kind of visitation.

i want to tell you about dipping my hand in lake michigan (like a spoon, a scoop) (my birth-lake) as we tilted towards it on the black-to-green flag day in a sailboat who’s name i forgot. dad at the helm. crhis + elijah stationed port-side across from isaiah and i, starboard. when dad asks over the water if we’re ready to come about, we all shout ready before strategically releasing or pulling the mail sail line til taut. do you remember what it’s called i ask isaiah this going back and forth instead of in a straight line? (tacking). and also, do you remember the names of the little boats? (dinghies).
and before that, the frisbee fest that saved us all.
and after that, how good the enchiladas were and how kind i was to our wait-people.
and just after that, a spoon with a burn mark on the bottom and a band for tightening around a limb found under a tree.

i want to tell you about how good iowa looks at sunrise-o-clock in the morning from a train window heading east. how the fog is like the cornfield spirit levitating. how the land curves and falls. how there are many roads. how the swell of pennsylvania dutch (or some kind of german) rises from the seats behind me with the sun. how i am surprised to see the group of young mennonites smoking at the smoke stop. (ignorance). how i imagine this ignorance often plays out. which has me imagining the probability of a mennonite person (and what that person does or says) causing surprise is much greater than the possibility of myself causing a surprise. not sure how to say that, but something about the unnamed phenomenon of when you are visible as something largely unknown by those around you, you are bound to surprise them.

i want to tell you about how i laughed with a perfect stranger most of the way between chicago’s union station and milwaukee’s intermodal station. how we shared a farmers market plum and peach. how i gave her my zine and she gave me a jar of mint chutney. how her family in india calls her alamu (just think alamo, she says, or a la mode), but her full first name is alamelu. how this kindness, these small things, the laughter, feel like shining. not just any shining. but something like horns. not the light on their brass, but the brightness of the sound that rises out.

i want to tell you about how good it feels to be in motion. and how the opposite of motion is something like rust. crusted on and jamming/joining metal to metal.

the catching up cannot be caught up on.
but perhaps i can drop slices as they arrive.

for now, i want to take you to the archive housed in a sizable shoebox.
i want to tell you how sometimes i’m convinced i’ve made kate up. not created her, but made things up about our closeness. or thought that i gave a lot of closeness and intimacy to her and that she kept her distance. after reading her letters, as it turns out, there were things she said she shared with only me because i was unlike others and she knew i’d understand. and then there’s the letter below. from 2004. a letter she wrote to 4 of her people. one of them being me. what a goddamn wonder it is to (re)discover, we are mutual stars in each other’s skies. sometimes even north stars. though she passed in early 2010, it feels off to speak of her in the past tense. especially after holding the paper she once held in my hands. she became a kind of light. prismatic. as i made my way through her handwriting, her words, i could see her shining. throwing colored light. spinning. i saw it so clearly that i bought a prism to hang in my san diego window. a kind of morse code. or lighthouse. pulsing out into the world. a way to call her back to me if she needs guidance. an intergalactic namaste (the light in me greets the light in you).

i debated on the ethics of internerding this letter.  all along i’ve been trying to convey kate to people i know. and failing. but i thought this letter could get some of her across in a way that i never could. so it’s not with the intent of exploiting, but rather bringing others to her, or her to them. not sure how she feel about this. i think she’d be pissed/boundarycrossed if she were still in that body i knew her to be in on this earth. i think as whatever she is transforming into now, she doesn’t give a fuck about the internet.

(click images to open separately where you can then click again to enlarge them.)

life is such a short summer she wrote in one of her letters. i have thought before about the unnamed phenomenon of the spirit/the life/the extra layer that things (belongings, cloths, smells, words, etc.) take on after the person they once belonged to steps off the planet through a little rip in the backdrop.

yesterday i showed shannon the sizable stack over skype. shook it in her face. told her about how (unproudly) one of my thoughts (braided in with all the grief) was about some kind of will. surely i would have been in it, no? surely she would have wanted to send me… and i hand-to-heart laughed at this mini-mountain of  letters. knowing she couldn’t have given me anything more.
and how, when i look closely, i see how my room/my life is filled with her givings:

•watercolor paints in blue and white case in my bottom desk drawer
•the honeydew colored sari, currently tucked in closet but once spilled down the steps of an attic room in a house called the secret garden
•the two the east indian puppets in traditional dress that once upon a time looked down on me from a high shelf at a house called the train station but that i passed on somewhere along the transitions
•the spiral pin. first object she ever gave me. pressed into my hand in the hallways of university of wisconsin, green bay. after a trip to somewhere in europe. how it swirled like my tattoo.
•the red satiny fabric. make something. she said. she meant for it to be soft against my skin but it hangs layered with lace. as curtains.
•the starry flannel pj’s i gave away
•the wool sweater i gave away
•the costume jewelries in my top drawer
•the teal scarf my first tarot deck is wrapped in
•the black scarf she knit for me with green tinsel layered in that milo wore on a visit to the east coast and didn’t return with.
•the cloth basmati rice bag i keep my hair clippers in
•my name printed in the acknowledgements of her book, testimony of an irish slave girl
•the bundle of sage on the alter with her photo

after all that, i shamefully laugh at myself for ‘not being included in her will’. it’s not really that i wanted stuff from her. i just wanted that validation. (you were so important to me, i wrote you into my will.) i’m not sure she included anyone or any of her things in her will. i’m not sure she had a will. i just know her ashes were put in the care of the irish consulate and sent along to a friend of hers in eire (ballyferriter, county kerry) which is one of the places she wanted to have a cabin. (there’s so little money between me and the sidewalk she wrote. teaching/the lack of good things coming through for her three other books never allowed her enough money to buy this home).  i imagine myself kissing the ground there. or the sea.

1 Comment

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One response to “life is such a short summer

  1. jennifer birrell

    Hello my name is Jennifer Birrell from Australia, Kate was a dear friend of mine also. Reading this i have so many of the same feelings and hold dear to all the little precious gifts she gave me, also paints and a ruby recklace, i miss her so much. I’m still in shock that she’s gone, though she’s not because she’s here in a small green genie bottle she gave me in Saudi Arabia, thats what she told me she’d do if anything happened to her. We worked together and shared a very special bond. I have wonderful letters from her that I read over and over. I still don’t know what happened and not sure if you know.

    Many thanks,
    Jennifer

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