October 24, 2015
I awoke and heard rain. I picked up the cat, walked down the hall, and looked out my office window. Red leaves, orange leaves, berries: all rained down, lush rain, soft rain, plush rain, whisper rain.
A pileated woodpecker watched us from its perch next to the driveway; gray squirrels perched on the front porch and ate acorns; a wooly caterpillar clung to the screen; a late leaving monarch butterfly, leaf-like, floated across the yard; and nuthatches ran up and down the trunks of trees.
And the 1889 photo of my great grandmother Selinda Baker rested on this keyboard, and Selinda watched me.
I am deeply in love with this woman, my Grandmother Olive’s mother. Selinda is round-faced, and my lineage is sharp-etched in her. Her hair is pulled back into a bun, her slender hands on a flower vase. She is about to be married to Homer Miller; her narrow eyes say she is excited.
Homer lived to a very old age. Many photos show him holding me, on the porch of Olive’s house, in Mt. Vernon. He is high-cheek-boned, with an arched nose; you can see the Shawnee Indian in his face. You can also see grief. Selinda died a sickly, middle-aged woman.
Walk in the Vandalia cemetery and see all the moss-covered stones with Baker and Miller etched on them, with sleepers beneath them. Walk in my front yard and view the enormous slabs of limestone that serve as an entrance way, the thousands of Devonian fossil: trilobites, crinoids, sea worm casings, coral, seashells from an ancient shore.
Stone and rain and wind: I am made of these. I am on Mars and the furthest reaches of the solar system, stone and rain and wind. And I am made from Selinda and Homer, and a wandering Indian woman of unknown name, and Glen and Helen, the Joneses, the Westerners. Who gave me the darkness?
For in this dark-painted house with dark-stained, breathing wood floors, I am the darkest of them all. Dewitt Jones, my beloved uncle, shot himself in the head with a shotgun. His wife has never forgiven him. Am I Dee’s gift? My cousin Tim is in a Texas penitentiary, having murdered his neighbor. My mother was murdered in the very same year Dee died. And Gen and Helen died in that year, of broken hearts. My father and his father were deeply depressed, tamped down by alcohol. Am I the collective gift of unhappy people?
I am high, and I am low. But I’ll be okay, and oaky today because it is impossible to be dark in leaf rain, berry sleet, acorn hail.
I hear Selinda breathe—oh, to lay my head upon her breast; I hear the water on Mars; I hear the lunar, lunatic wail of the great-horned owl. Fall is not death; fall of spirit is.
Why would anyone rake leaves, husks, feathers, berries, dirt, stones? These compose the woven blanket of Earth. These feed the earth: our babies, the birds, the old asleep in the ground.
My dear Tuskegee Airman friend Bill told me as a child he felt he was destined to be a bird. And he flew. I am a brother of the stones, and stones are tellers of stories.
And I write.