Dying and Rising in the Kalevala*

While reading in the Kalevala about the swan
of Tuonela, and Lemminkainen’s mother
and what she did, a shout went out from me
toward what or whom I cannot say.

Hacked into pieces by the son of Tuoni,
who threw the eight parts of Lemminkainen
into the river, here came his mother, carrying
a rake of iron forged by Ilmarainen. With it

she raked the reaches of Tuonela’s river until
she recovered all the fragments of her slain son.
Bones fitted, she chanted a magical song
for weaving of veins, for stitching of sinew

and flesh. Still no breath. She sent the prophetic
bee to gather salve from Jumala’s** pots. Rubbed
on his body, it would raise her son from dreams
of evil to life and speech. A mother defying

the story as told by someone else, she would
save her son from powers that bade him ill.
Her name Lempi, her action her identity as
Lemminkainen’s mother whose love prevailed.

* Finnish epic
** God

Listen …

Drawing near on the horizon, a host
of those who have gone before. I see
them walking atop the waves as if
on a country road on a fall day.
In a murmur of voices I hear my name
spoken by them who have been
my mother, father, sister, my brother
and friend after friend who hold out
their hands in greeting. As Jesus
did, so now do I walk on the water
to meet them.

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Four children, one tub
no running hot water––
How did she manage to keep us clean?

With pots and kettles on the stove
heating after supper on Saturday night
in preparation for church on Sunday

morning. The heated water half-filled
the claw-footed tub, and whoever was
first in the week’s rotation stepped

gingerly into the steamy bath.
My favorite slot was number three.
Like Goldilocks tasting the bears’

porridge and finding the bowl of Baby
Bear not too hot and not too cold
but just right, so it was with the third

slot. Granted I sat in a growing scum
but I didn’t mind, what with the rinse
the warm rinse a comforting caress

after it all. Like animals nuzzling
their fresh hay on a cold winter night
and settling into their clean bedding

with quiet nickers and oinks, we
settled onto clean sheets, murmuring
to each other as we fell asleep.

In memoriam

After all these years her reduction to ashes
sits unmolested on the fireplace mantle,
her mother afraid to let her go underground.

Her father had found her frozen in death
his and her mother’s love not enough
to save her from the cold and loneliness

of depression, that folded her in on herself.
If only she’d called, they’d have heard and come
running with hope for a new beginning.

Tightrope Walking

In Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth,
the protagonist and his wife have had a child,
a much desired son. They walk along
talking excitedly about their beautiful boy.

Suddenly, fearfully they realize what
they are doing. The mother tucks
the baby out of sight, and together
she and her husband lament

the misshapen, unfortunate child,
hoping to deflect the gods’
vengeance and not to tempt foul fate.

A partridge setting on a nest
with chicks warm beneath her wing.
would understand. With danger near
she would cry out and feign wounded

wing, ‘round and around she’d run
to distract a predator from discovering
and destroying her chicks.

My mother too a fatalist, a strategist
and dealmaker with the gods, when
approaching a stop light that shone green
would begin her litany of denial: It’ll never last.

It’ll be red by the time we get there.
You’ll see. Eureka. The light still green
on our arrival, she’d drive on through
the intersection shaking her head

with a small victory chuckle. Either way
she won. She’d be right or she’d be happy
to take what the gods had offered that day,
more than enough for her.

Who Will Rescue the Baby?

My grandson’s mantra
after seeing the wave-tossed cradle
of a baby lost in a storm in the movie
The Secret of Roan Inish,
was, Who will rescue the baby?

We cued up the end of the film
to try to ameliorate his real concern
by explaining the boy on screen,
just a bit bigger than he himself
was the baby grown, rescued
by his mother, a selkie,* who led him
back to his human family that nestled
him in a blanket and fed him soup.

Shortly thereafter my grandson’s father
overheard him whispering into a box
that housed his plastic tiger,
I’ll take care of you. And so he does
with blanket and thimble of soup.

*selkie = a Celtic mythological creature
that is both human and seal

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A Legacy of Sisu* on Mummo’s Birthday

The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.

*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.

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