A couple of days ago, I read this poem:
The Persistent Accent
---------------Until the grave covers me, on foreign soil
------------------I shall remain Hungarian
---------------------------------Hungarian folk song
Because this fat old lady
has exactly the voice
of my dead grandma,
I find myself
trailing her through the supermarket
as she complains to her friend
about the Blacks, the kids, the prices,
age, disease, and certain death,
and I'm seduced
by that Hungarian accent
decades in this country can't diminish,
and I see the smoky fires
of the harvesters, a golden-braided girl
fetching their dinners of peppers and lamb,
and I follow her
through the aisles,
wanting to lay my face
between her hands,
to ask her for a song.
Now, my grandma wasn't fat---rail thin, in fact. She wasn't Hungarian but English. She didn't have an accent. But this poem has called her into my memory anyway. Nearly intact: bony hips under polyester pants; dark grey, curly hair; a scent of moisturizer and coffee and denture cream. She was the kindest person I think I've ever known, although I also know that idea---her unconditional love---comes from my child mind. I only knew her as a grandma, adored by my childhood self, and never as an adult or a woman or anything else. But still---I cling to that memory of her kindness because it makes kindness seem more possible.
I think the line that drew her so clearly to mind was this one: "Wanting to lay my face/between her hands." I remember my grandma's hands very clearly. The age spots, the soft, wrinkled skin that, when you pinched it, would tent into peaks that would stay up until she bent her fingers. The softness of the finger pads. Her hand riffling through her jewelry box to find a string of puka shells for me to play with. Holding her hand. I wouldn't ask her for a song, though. I'd ask her for a story. She used to tell me all about her mother, the Amy I was named for, and her dad, the Nathan mine was named for. They seemed to be magical and amazing, Amy and Nathan, Nathan and Amy. But I cannot remember any of the stories, only the feeling they evoked.
But maybe that's why I so get this poem. I wonder if everyone has those moments when you're in a crowded place and someone walks by who reminds you so strongly of a person you've lost, strongly enough that for a second it seems all you must do is tap them on the shoulder. They'll turn around and somehow the person you've lost is returned to you. And then you can ask them for the thing you need most from them. It is a seductive thought. It makes me wonder what my grandma would think of the life I've made for myself, or how I might relate to her as an adult. Could she still bring me that contented happiness she gave me as a child? Probably not. But the poem made me believe, just for a minute, that she could.