The Relics

1. brett returns my mother to the wilderness

I slipped them into my friend’s palm — 
the tiny crucifix, and dove,
from off my mother’s pendant watch — 
and I asked her to walk them up through the brush
toward timberline, and find a place
to hurl them, for safekeeping. Now,
she writes, “I walked up the canyon at dusk,
warm, with a touch of fall blowing down the canyon,
came to an outcrop, above a steep
drop — far below, a seasonal
creek, green willows. I stood on a boulder
and held out my hand. I wished your mother all the
love in the world, and I sent the talismans
flying off the cliff. They were so small,
and the wind was blowing, so I never saw or
heard them land.” My mother is where
I cannot find her, she is gone beyond
recall, she lies in her sterling shapes
light as the most weightless bone in the body, her
stirrup bone, which was ground up
and sown into the sea. I do not know
what a soul is, I think of it
as the smallest, the core, civil right. And she
is wild now with it, she touches and is
touched by no one knows — down, or
droppings of a common nighthawk,
root of bird’s foot fern, antenna of
Hairstreak or Echo Azure, or stepped on by the
huge translucent Jerusalem cricket. There was
something deeply right about
the physical elements — atoms, and cells,
and marrow — of my mother’s body,
when I was young, and now her delicate
insignias receive the direct
touch of the sun, and scatter it,
unseen, all over her home.

 
2. cross and dove


I had not wanted them, and I hadn’t known
what to do with them, the minuscule
symbols of my mother’s religion,
I looked for a crack in the stone floor of the
cathedral but could not find one. Then I thought
of the wilderness near Desolation,
and asked my friend to carry them up
to a peak of granite, and let the wind take them. Since
then, it has been as if my mother’s
spirit matter has been returned
into the great bank of matter,
as her marrow had been sifted down into
the ocean. It doesn’t matter, now, if I
ever wanted to disassemble
my mother. The sixteenth-of-an-inch-
across cross, and the silver line drawing
of a dove are cached, somewhere, that is nowhere
to be found. Now I think of the nature of metal, and how
long the soul-dolls of her trust will last in their
spider-egg-sac of roots, needles,
quartz, feathers, dust, snow, shed
claw. Her belief she would have an eternal
life was absolute, I think.
It would not be good to think of my mother
without her God — like a hermit howling in the
moonscape of a desert. Once, when she was old — like an
exquisite child playing a crone
in the school play — we talked about heaven.
She wasn’t sure exactly how, but she
knew her father would be there, and her elder
brother, and her second husband —
maybe it was a heaven for four,
the three men and her. It was so
easy to make my mother happy
in her last years, to tell her that I
could just see her, as a kitten, in God’s
lap, being petted. Her eyes sparkled with more
beams than any other eyes I have seen.
I have sent the tokens of her everlasting being
into the high altitude.
They will shine long after I can sing her — sing what I
perceived through the distorted prisms of my vision.
I don’t know if I saw my mother
or did not see her. Day and night,
her charms will gleam in the brush or stream, will
reflect the mountain light in little
pieces of unreadable language.
More Poems by Sharon Olds