Birthdays, Snakes, and Bleeding Hearts
Tuesday July 16, 6:08 a.m.
As if three score and ten were not enough, along comes another. I’m not too good with math, but even I can figure out the cap on how many are potentially left to go. Ah, but they are as inevitable as the Bleeding Hearts just outside my office window, just starting to blossom out, and as certain as the hummingbirds that will soon follow to thrust their long bills into the tiny red folds, sipping nectar, wings aflutter.
This one will be one of the most unusual I’ve ever had. In about an hour I’ll leave to drive to Tuscaloosa to visit my oldest sister, Ann, 88, in the hospital. Now just by my saying 88 you will presume she has difficulty walking around (and she has slowed) and that someone is usually pretty close by in case she needs help. Not if she can help it! Yesterday she decided she would go out to her flower garden and loosen up the soil with a hoe and then push some of the dirt around the base of the hostas she started from one rooted from my house in Prattville in the 80s. I’ve seen her do it a hundred times, so I can see the scene. This part was new: she felt the bite before she saw the head of the Copperhead dart back after his strike.
We only have two other poisonous snakes in Alabama—the rattlesnake and the cottonmouth, if you don’t count the more southern coral snake. Frankly, I’ve never seen a coral snake and I’m not certain I could remember the jingle in time if I did. Red on black, friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow.
Ellie Bryant inspired the first line of my snaky story “Envenomation” in the Lectorium at Spalding with her comment: “I’m an e-mail slut.” So my first line of this story became “My daddy handles snakes, and my mama is an e-mail slut.” But, you know, now that I’ve remembered this incident, my story begins in humor and ends in tragedy. I remember Lovie and the demise of her Radio. I don’t like the ending of that story this morning. Lovie fares somewhat better because she still has Silas—named after Silas House, the good preacher from the snake-handling church. Still...
My brother-in-law, a doctor, and my consultant on snakebites for the story, assured me last night that a copperhead bite is less dangerous than a rattlesnake bite. He also said that the antivenin has improved some and is not so apt to trigger an allergic reaction now that they use sheep instead of horses—oh, but not to get into that process. It was good, he said, that they were observing her overnight at the hospital.
As unlikely as this snakebite strike was the gift I found on my kitchen counter this morning, a typed sheet of paper. You read that correctly, typed as in typed on the Smith Corona typewriter, borrowed from this same brother-in-law whose dad gave it him to use in college. This typewriter has been sitting at the end of my kitchen table for a week as my grandson Nicholas has typed on thick paper for an art installation. This is his “creative summer” following his freshman year at Syracuse University in architecture. He hopes to have a complete art show before his return to Syracuse in late August. That familiar sound of striking keys against paper has lulled us to sleep nightly. It calls up my eleventh grade typing class at Montgomery High, and a more recent memory, Jessica pounding out stories on “Murder She Wrote” when our children were young.
My birthday poem.
I read it three times through before crying. Nicholas has been the inspiration for many of my poems, and is the subject of the title poem of my full-length collection. The realization hit home that in poems it is okay to just lay bare our hearts. It is the only place we can do that without seeing our words grow fuzzy and too precious.
He has given me a sweeping overview of the installation-in-progress. It is filled with all the darkness teenagers experience in relationships in a divorce situation, situations that even the adults involved can’t fully understand. He has typed nearly a hundred pages of words this week spilled from the gut and recorded in his notebook over the past year. He is still toying with an arrangement of these words. Always eager to help with ideas, I’ve pointed out to him the light and dark in Bruegel’s print that hangs in my powder room, “The Fight between Carnival and Lent.”
This newest poem, a glorious song beaming from my refrigerator, may be the start of balance for arranging his installation, adding that warm, sunny side of healing.