Ashes to bluebells


“Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future. / After all, I thought of it; it’s a probability somewhere, complete, on a shelf. / My intention is to consult that future edition and create this one, the original, for you.” -Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from A Treatise on Stars (2020)

At first, when a hectic term ends, I have no idea how to slow down. Panic rises about whatever work I’ve been putting off, usually difficult writing-related stuff–this year, not only the usual submissions but planning events and media to launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds, although I’ve set up a few things. I’m jazzed about the first one, a virtual conversation with Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria. Called “Exploring Poetry’s Possible Worlds,” it will be hosted via Zoom by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk and nicely positioned near the close of National Poetry Month on Friday, April 29, from 6-7 pm EDT. Many poems have created transformative spaces for me, and I hope Luisa and I can create one for you. If you’d like to join in, register here.

The official launch date is May 17, so my book is from the future, as Berssenbrugge writes, but advance copies came this week and they’re gorgeous. Every success brings more effort, though. In addition to starting applications for festivals and thinking about what other publicity might help the book find readers, I’m sending out review copies. Please let me know if you’d consider reviewing it or adopting it for a course–just message me or Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media for a copy (and thanks to Heather for taking the lovely baby book portraits above–she received a box, too, in Portland, Oregon). If you have a favorite festival or series, I’d love to hear about it. I’m not a glam young road warrior who can do it all, so I’m just trying to make the smartest choices about what will feel rewarding as well as reach readers.

It’s not all publicity labor and task force reports over here, though. I’m really reading again: some of it’s for fall teaching, granted, but wonderful all the same. I picked up A Treatise on Stars just for the weird, lovely fun of it. I’d never read a full book by Berssenbrugge before and it was way stranger than I expected, all about receiving signals from the sky and dolphins and other people. What a pleasure to sip poetry on the porch, catching her wavelength. Just shifting the enormous pile of books around to see what had accumulated was gratifying, as is thinking about summer trips and even cleaning out my sock drawer.

The taking stock includes thinking about April 2021. I received my second Moderna shot on the 9th, drove up to see my mother on the 11th, and spent most of the month with her as she was in and out of medical care; she died on the 30th. I’m sad in waves, but mostly feeling quiet and receptive, if that makes sense, pondering what I need to do to make space for the weight of it. I have a few of her blouses and earrings now, and I’m wearing them a lot, which makes me feel connected to her. While my sister has most of my mother’s ashes, I have some, and I just scattered a small amount by myself in my favorite patch of bluebells by the river. My mother wanted to be returned to the ground in a beautiful place, as much as she cared at all about the fate of her body after she left it, and I’m thinking I’d like to bring her to many beautiful places. I’ll be in Budapest and Venice and Seattle this summer–all cities she would have enjoyed visiting and never had a chance to–but I’m not sure about bringing even tiny amounts of “cremains” on an airplane, especially since I don’t have permission to bury them somewhere. I’m imagining being stopped by security: “What is this?” “My mother.” This is another thing I’m seeking advice about, in case you have experience with it.

In the meantime, for April 30th, maybe find the prettiest garden in the region and smuggle ashes in? Bake her scones recipe and drink a glass of port, her favorite? Read a book she liked? The last time she smiled at me–with her eyes closed, a few days before she died–was when I said I wouldn’t have been a reader or a writer without her.


6 responses to “Ashes to bluebells”

  1. A friend brings her parents’ ashes with her on all her trips around the world to sprinkle places she thinks they would have loved. I don’t think she’s every been questioned. My own rituals in memory of my mother, who also died last year, always seem perfect at the time and inadequate later. But the memories that pop up are always fun and spontaneous. So it goes. Happy new book and spring renewal to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this piece and this wonderful book. We have wild bluebells in The Back 40 and I understand/empathize how mothers turn us into readers and writers. Just another thing they can and often do give us. Peace to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

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