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Gail Ylitalo

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To Find Morning Glory
By Gail Ylitalo
Thursday, September 11, 2003

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POETIC REFLECTION ON THE PASSING AWAY OF A BELOVED SISTER.


The light in the room is dim, causing shadows to dance and giving life to objects that represent nothing more than our vain attempts to play God. I try to focus on the words, but the ink runs together, and all I see are infinite dots—tiny black ants scurrying across the page, only to collide into a Rohrshach inkblot. The air is aseptic and as sterile as my thoughts. My sister is quiet now. She sleeps in this hospital room knowing I will be the last face she sees.

Sadly, I stop mumbling the words and glance down at her. She stirs and gives a barely audible moan. My sister lies near death, and her only comfort is found in the words of a long dead poet, William Wordsworth. Her face is marked with the lines of suffering—the taut skin as white as the sheet pulled up to her chin.

I try again to read the words to a poem we shared in our youth. Clearing my throat, in a singsong fashion, I recite, "A simple child/That lightly draws its breath/And feels its life in every limb/What should it know of death?"

Ruby hears me; I can tell by the slight twitching of her eyelids. I think back to our childhood and how she was our protector. Ruby shielded us from our abusive father and indifferent mother. She told us that we were like the "seven" in Wordsworth's poem. She would read to us on those long, hot, summer days when she'd gather us up like a mother hen and take us to the safe place. Our womb was an enclosure of pine trees near a shallow creek. The quiet murmuring of flowing water and the scent of pine filled our starved senses and allowed us to float above those towers of nature.

"Two of us in the churchyard lie/My sister and my brother/and, in the churchyard cottage, I/Dwell near them with my mother." I have to put the book down, feeling a weariness and sadness which squeeze my very soul. The dark hand of death has reached down to caress my heart. I stand on weak legs and for a moment the room spins around me. The book falls to the floor, and I wait to see if Ruby will awaken. I watch her like a mother watches a sleeping infant, longing for the baby to stir and reassure that all is well. But Ruby does not stir from her drug-induced world of dreams. I walk to the window and peer out at an awakening world. The early morning light is just beginning to unfold across the landscape, reminding me of an arthritic hand struggling to straighten pain-filled fingers in an urgent desire to break free.

I see my reflection looking back at me and wonder who it is that holds such pain in those haunted eyes. The passing years have rearranged the flesh, but it is the child inside who cries out now. I think back to those times and the memories that we'd made as we roamed the West Virginia mountains. We lived in a mining house the coal company had provided. Papa worked the mines and when he wasn't working, he drank.

The day of my grandmother's death is etched into my mind. The faces, the colors of the day, and the intense feelings can be summoned before me like an old rerun on television. The seven of us were herded out of the house and taken to a neighbor's backyard. Ruby was eight, and I was five. She held my hand and talked softly to us. The sky was crystal blue, and the air was crisp and sweet smelling. Ruby instructed us to gather around her as she found a grassy spot near some honeysuckle. I stared at the sky as she told us that Nanny had gone to a better place.

"Where'd she go?" I'd asked, with overwhelming feelings of sadness and fear.

"Nanny has gone to find Morning Glory—you remember when we found it growing along the creek and picked it for her?" I recalled the hugs and kisses she gave us when we handed it to her, our faces and hands dirty from the mud. "Yeah, Nanny loved Morning Glory.” We sat quietly by our sister as she sobbed. Her grief was our grief, and Ruby cried for us all.

"Lorrie?"

Turning away from the painful memory, I found Ruby looking up at me. Her face seemed to glow, and I sensed that she was between two worlds. "I was remembering," I whispered, "and I don't know if I can deal with this. If only we could go back to the pines!"

"Come and sit by the bed." It took all her strength to utter those words, and her breathing became more labored as she tried to sit up. She was seized by pain so severe it caused beads of sweat to form on her fevered brow. I rushed over to my beloved sister and gently eased her onto her back. Wiping the sweat off her brow, I uttered words I can't recall. The attack passed and the anguish momentarily left her face.

"We will always be seven," she managed to say, just above a whisper. "Please read the last two verses. Remember, we all go to find Morning Glory when it's time."

I returned to my chair, picked the book up off the floor and found the verses she wanted to hear. Somehow I held back the tears and concentrated on gaining control of my voice.

"How many are you then, said I/If they two are in heaven?/Quick was the little maid's reply/O Master! We are seven."

Ruby took one last breath, sighed and was gone. I stopped reading and looked closely at her. The child had returned to her face with all the innocence the pain had kept hidden for so long. Gently closing her eyes, I let my tears fall. Bending down close to her ear, I softly said, "But they are dead:those two are dead!/Their spirits are in heaven!/Twas throwing words away, for still/The little maid would have her will/And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
   


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