The Urn

Each time you see the shadow of the Greek urn against the foyer wall you are reminded of the sadness within you. It is not the memory of the urn that saddens you, for that was a time of joy: remember Greece, how we stole away from the tour group and climbed to the top of a mountain and found the one-room abandoned house? Remember how you made love to me on the damp mud floor? It was dark and I was worried about snakes and spiders. My legs were scratched from the dry bramble bushes that surrounded the house. And you, you were perfect in your voice and movements. You began to lick my wounds slowly, neatly, you peeled away dead layers, scars of other years. With little effort it seemed I was stripped of my inhibitions - I was opened, ready, like the exposed core of a ripened fruit.

Later we imagined how the people lived there. I, playing the part of the wife, went to the brick oven to retrieve the bread and found my hand on the clay urn. In the bright sunlight we could see how the red clay had faded into a soft apricot color. You ran your hand along its curves; the bottom worn, felt like smooth velvet. You said it was well preserved, placed within dark brick walls, hidden from time.

And now, many years later, as the autumn leaves are piled high against the fence, and the cold drafts begin to sneak through the cracks in the old Dutch door in the kitchen, you say you feel angry, that it wasn't enough that your brother, your best friend, had been killed while crossing the street, that soon it will be the first anniversary of your mother's death. It was Thanksgiving morning when you answered the telephone; your eyes were fixed on the shadow of the urn in the foyer when your sister said, "Mama's dead." Somewhere in between the split hairline seconds of confusion and comprehension you thought one of the handles of the urn was broken off. Knowing that shadows are unreliable, that they change with light and distance, that they lie - still, as your eyes filled with tears, you changed your position to reassure yourself that it was only an illusion. How many times have I wished I could erase the shadow from the wall, that I could fix your gaze upon the glory of an ordinary moment, upon our child who's proudly displayed his coloring of a turkey on the refrigerator door. You say you notice this. You notice all. That it is not only the anniversary of your mother's death, it is your "obsession with time." As though approaching a revelation you say immature things: "Nothing is forever. Time changes everything. You can't beat time."

"Enough," I shout, and I hear my words like a piano off-key fall flat and dull from my mouth. "We aren't supposed to beat time, we're supposed to move along with it, to make it work for us."

The other morning I found a group of your old favorite poems which you had typed during your college years. I reread them remembering how we spent many winter evenings together. Remember your favorite poem? Oddly enough you had neglected to type the poet's name. After so many readings and so many years of being in your desk drawer among your own writings, it became yours. When you first read it to me you became embarrassed because you suddenly couldn't remember whether this was one of the poems you had written. It was a good time. A time of ideals. It was the University Book Store, Valerio's Coffee House. Remember when you said, "Philosophy nourishes the soul, the way food nourishes the body" and Valerio wrote your words on a poster and placed it above the espresso machine? Soon after it became the tradition and he allowed his special customers to leave their messages on the walls. Whenever I hear the bellow of an espresso machine I can still see the steam rising upward, right past the word "nourishes" leaving it slightly moist.

Yes, it was a good time, but we are here not there. Here where my hands are red and frozen from cleaning the turkey. Here where I look out the kitchen window and watch as you begin to brush the leaves off the logs. I watch the axe fall, first there is a thud, then a cracking sound, then the sound of a log rolling. Thud, crack, roll, after a while it has a tempo and I know you are beating yourself into the ground - a celebration of pain.

I am carrying the urn out to the yard, it lays in my apron, across my arms. As though I were a high priestess making a sacrificial offering, I lay it at your feet. You look at me oddly, as though I am crazy. I know you recognize what I'm saying. To be certain I add, "Time can never erase memories."

The urn is back in place. We are at a distance as we each go about our chores. When all is done and we meet, as though no time has elapsed, you say with a small smile, "That's what you think. Wait another fifty years or so and our memories will be so dim we won't even remember one another."

I know it's not over, so as if to try and remove the last threads of anger from your being, tonight as the pungent aroma of turkey cooking slips under our bedroom door, I shall read your favorite poem aloud:

I will fling wide the window, greet the sun,

plan out my task, take up the broken strands,

and at the task this lesson, grimly won, shall...