When I came home, I pulled out a poem I wrote about Aunt Mary years ago in graduate school but had never sent out to be published. I've revised it more, and now I think it's ready to go out.
I share it here.
The Only Safety
for my aunt, Mary Ahern Lawbaugh (1938-1971)
When you died--a shock, a mystery still--my soul cramped,
a shadow of itself. Fifteen and sick that day for no reason, I sprawled
on a yellow bed. Then the phone call. A heavy curtain dropped.
The news, incomprehensible. The whole world's face going blank.
In first grade, I clutched a rabbit puppet in my plane seat flying
from O'Hare to Omaha to see your exhibit. At the Joslyn Art Museum,
I posed for a snapshot by the pillars, your name on the sign--
woman, mother, artist--your paintings alive on the walls inside.
At twelve, the next and last time I saw you, our family visited yours
in Las Cruces. You let me pick one of your paintings, "Jungle Moths,"
bright-winged, red, azure, orange, amidst bold tropical-green leaves.
Your moths still float on our kitchen wall, your presence at every meal.
After your passing, did I allow fear to keep the poet hidden, her words
hoarded in the dark? But words, like trees, crave light. Let me believe
this to be the only safety, the truest way to honor your life, your art:
throw open the door, let words, like seeds, loose upon the land, let trees
spring up where they may to give shelter and shade, bear fruit and beauty.
-Marianne Murphy Zarzana