26 February 2009

Books, Unwritten

At the table, in the sunlight streaming through the window, I sit and daydream on a cold and windy winter day. The golden sun spills across the dark wood, illuminating the whorls and lines that remind me of the polished shell of a casket, as it is lowered slowly into the ground. I press my hands hard into the blood-warm surface, bracing myself as a wave of dizziness threatens to knock me out of the chair in which I sit. It passes, and my feet find purchase on the floor not unlike the ocean bottom. I breathe deep.

I could sleep
When I lived alone
Is there a ghost in my house?”

A quavery voice croons from the radio. I stifle a flash of irritation; how did he know I was thinking of ghosts? And I haven’t slept well in many moons.

I do dream of ghosts, often.

It is perhaps the best way I know to remember them, call them forth when I feel the need for an infusion of memories. I have no need of a medium or an Ouija board or human gateway to find these ghosts living in my heart. They are there, to be conjured up in a ray of sunlight, a gust of wind, the flight of birds. To step outside, listening and feeling is to welcome them into my consciousness, however tenuous that may be.

Before me are a computer, an old spiral bound notebook and a thick journal bound in a mottled black cover. A pen is clipped to the spine; it is half-full of sepia-toned ink. These are the tools I use to communicate and to capture. By capture I mean capture an instant, not a physical restraint of the quarry at hand. I would never think of them that way, and it would be disrespect in the highest degree to restrain their ghosts in such a manner.

I do not want stuffed animals on display. I want butterflies to perch on my fingers, occasionally.

The sun warms the backs of my hands, as I sleepily rub my eyes. The cursor on the screen blinks slowly. Sometimes it is hard to dispel the notion that the cursor is mocking me, the blinking a slow sticking out of an electronic tongue and a waggle of fingers in the ears. Absurd notion, to be sure, and it never fails to elicit a grin. I want to reach out and push that tongue back into its digital mouth. I can’t do that yet, though. My pen is hovering over the paper, but the words just won’t come, not yet.

The hesitation is caused in part by the pictures I can see on the wall, of the twins that were taken early on in the hospital. They have been there for a long time, resting on little wooden shelves affixed to the wall. They make me think of Old World homes with the memory walls bearing pictures of family, or a household shrine. Yes, a household shrine, with the photographs in their dark wood frames assuming the role of spirit-tablets. The faces of the departed forming pictograms in a language known only to four people in the world, of which I am one. I am anxious to know its grammar and syntax, its dialects, and record the knowledge before it fades from use.

The language exists, as all languages seem to, in written and spoken forms. I say spoken but it is less an aural construct and more of a physical one. The closest equivalent would be sign language. I never had the honor and the pleasure of exchanging sounds or words with my twins. I talked to them on their brief time on earth, hoping that perhaps they would at least know I was there, just so they could know the sound of my voice. They never had a chance to speak back to me, and that makes my heart sore.

No, our communications were primarily by touch. Changing a diaper was an intense conversation between us. My fingers gently holding the tiny legs, their fingertips delicate against my skin, pink skin like new born lambs. To place my hands on them even for a minute was an afternoon of dialogue. Was that really speech, or was that a song? If it was song, then it was a duet of epic proportions. Think of it as a silent love song, the notes exchanged through the blood-warm tympanum of skin to skin.

So how to record this new found language, make sense of these beautiful songs, when I am newly minted as a scribe and know little of music? Perhaps the written word is my only recourse. It is the only medium I dare claim proficiency in. Books were my savior once, but it never occurred to me then to write my own. Now I have no choice.

The notebook and the journal comfort me with their weight and presence. Physical, slightly giving, but tender upon the hands. Much like the ethereal weight of the twins I once had the honor of touching. Books in my hands. I have shelves full of books, on the three floors of the humble house I call my home. There is a large stack of books threatening to take over the corner of my bedroom between the nightstand and the dresser. And the nightstand itself is groaning under the weight of books to be read. It is an embarrassment of riches I willingly will take on. Books have been, since I first learned to read, both portal and shield for me. Books allowed me access to the world and protection from it at the same time.

Portals and shields: at first glance, two tiny infants would hardly seem capable of assuming such lofty roles. They were so vulnerable, so small, and when I first saw them that day in the NICU I had no idea of their hidden identities. I have meditated on them almost every day for the last near six years, and it was only recently that the idea came clear to me.

The babies were going to be my door into understanding the world, and my shield against the everyday insanities of reality. At that moment, I felt more strongly connected to the human race than maybe any other moment of my life. Being human was no longer an abstraction, it was a reality. I looked upon them and saw myself, blood, brains and heart. No longer could I act as a passive observer of life; I was in it. In the first days, I felt like now I would have a chance to really wrap my head around life, because I would have a safe place to go when it got to be too much. I saw myself putting my arms around them as an antidote to all the bad stuff swirling around out in the world.

Doorways to the world, protection from it. More beautiful manifestations I could not imagine.

They are gone, of course. Fragile souls laid to rest and signified with markers of stone and bronze. I stare at the screen in front of me, running my hands over the scratchy paper and brown ink on the pages in the notebook and the journal. The children have not disappeared. The empty pages have told me so. I pick up the pen, remove the cap. Ink flows and stains the pages.

My portal, my shield, laid down in the pages of books unwritten.


  1. As you've written about your babies, I've often wished I'd met them.

    Now, I feel like I'm starting to.

    Carry on, Irish. You're doing WAY good. And doing us good, too.

  2. time to write something in that brown ink of yours.

  3. That's why I don't use fountain pens any more.

    I intend to use the word "tympanum" more often.

    Beautiful piece.

  4. Being a mother of twin girls this post hit me straight through the heart. What a beautiful writer you are...I'm glad I returned the visit.

  5. Your writing is amazing, and I am not just saying this, I read most of your stuff, but do not always leave a comment...because I want to make sure I say the right thing, and you know how email and this stuff is it can come across, well, a way that maybe is off from your true feelings...like...I feel as though we are the same person in the way that you write...I identify with your words, whether a fiction, or non...glad I found Irish Gumbo who ever they may be...

  6. Lonely people think too much. I hope you will be able to Happiness and Happiness Forever. I hope you two twins baby happy and healthy. (Smile)


  7. Irish - what can I say, this is what I heart the most about you. Your openness and your love - you can write so well and thanks to you, I can see things through another light. You are an inspiration Irish you know that? I am glad to be in your company. I hope that seeing your example will push me further into getting my words on paper. (((HUGS)))

  8. I have chills. Every story has a plot, in life as in death. Your words are beautiful.

  9. What can I say to that? Nothing, that's what.


  10. Beautiful!
    ...is all I can say!

  11. A fine and interestingly deep full piece Irish..

  12. VM: Glad you liked it!

    Janie: They were something else, yep. Thank you.

    Sunny: I am on it!

    Mo: tympanum is a good word. And thank you.

    Romany Angel: I saw their picture recently; lovely! And thank you!

    Joanie: thank you, my dear.

    ChefE: Wow! What a compliment! Thank you!

    Belle: thank you :)

    Skywind: That may be true to a degree.

    Krystal: *blush* I am honored, truly! :)

    SK: Well said. Thank you!

    CPM: Thank you, my dear.

    Emmy: thank you! (and thank you for the award, I posted it)

    Pamela: Thank you :)

    Greenfingers: I appreciate that, thank you!

  13. I love.



  14. Bryn: Glad you liked it.

    MIW: Thank you :)

  15. Just reading this makes me want to hold you and
    make everything better like when you were little. I want you to know that twice this week I heard from Emma . Her name was on a pair of children's yellow boots that I saw and I could just image her running through the rain. She is not gone only living on another plain with Connor.
    Love You,

  16. it always feels good to write. I can always hear your sigh of relief when you come to the end. I hope all of this is truly helping.

  17. Over the seas I send to you a gift of silence ... a space where you might give voice to yet more beautiful memories.
    June in Oz

  18. MDTS: Thank you.

    Mom: Somedays, I wish you could too. :)

    Flutter: *blush* Thank you!

    Panic Room: To say that it is helping is a bit understated. :)

    June: Bless you, my dear. Thanks.

  19. Beautdul Irish, just damn beautiful.

  20. You know, I was going to read in my reader and not comment, because I have about 200 posts in my google reader and I'm in a rush...


    Your writing forces us to slow down and think...

    And finally stop by (yet again) to say this is just gorgeous.

  21. I have no words for how much I wish they were still with you. Wishes like that are useless, I know. Your words are stunning.

  22. PHST: You honor me, m'lady.

    OAM: That is a high compliment, thank you.

    anymommy: I know, but thank you, very much.

  23. I wasn't going to comment as I can't think of something adequate to say that does justice to this post. But I didn't want to not comment and leave you thinking it hadn't been read.

    So I'll simply say that it's another post that makes me wish my own writing was a lot better...

  24. Well, we are officially even now...you made me cry...a warning would have been nice since I'm not wearing water proof mascara.

    The twins would have been the luckiest children in the world to grow up with a father like you Irish.

  25. TBF: You honor me, sir :)

    TSM: (blush and gulp) Ma'am, thank you, from my heart :)

  26. Ok...held it together until I read your mom's comment and your response to her. Now I'm crying at work.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...