Almanac of the Dead *

We agree to meet at a restaurant.
There are eight of us from three generations.

It is noisy and we cannot converse easily.
I can hardly hear what you say.

Each time we sit, you and I are separated.

As we walk back to the car, after ice-creams
by the river, my sister and I walk ahead.

I am aware that you are watching from behind.

An unwanted thought,
It would be terrible if this were the last time I saw you.

The next day I feel uneasy.
I could have rung, but I
resisted the urge, feeling
ridiculous about my uneasiness.

I say nothing.

I ring you after you are home again -
300 miles away.

I begin reading Almanac of the Dead.

You do not ring me before I leave for America.
This is unusual.
In a plane over the Pacific, I think of this
and again feel the urge to ring.

It's only ten days.
Did I forget to tell you?

I shop in Santa Barbara.
I buy,
one pair of black trousers
one pair of black socks
one black linen jacket.

I am to read and give a paper at a conference -
you are mentioned in this paper.

At eight o'clock on the morning of my paper
I get a phonecall saying I'll be upset but it's turned out all right.

That is when I learn you've had a heart attack.

I go to breakfast and mention this to a colleague.

If your mother is in hospital, she'll be all right.
No one dies of heart attacks if they've made it to the hospital.

During the reading, a poet almost breaks down
reading a poem about her mother.
She tells me later that her mother is 90
and it's beginning to worry her.

At the end of the day another poet tells me
his father died when he was at a conference last year.

I drive an American academic back to the hotel via the beach.
She tells me of a paper she had heard by a woman who
had arrived ten minutes after her mother died.

I am reading Almanac of the Dead.

I ring you at the hospital.
You get out of bed to speak to me.
You say, This is expensive, Dear,
I'd better go.

Wait a minute, I say,
Tell me what happened.

You tell me of the garden tour,
the pain, the ambulance
from Braidwood to Canberra.

I tell you I'll be back on the 5th.

You say, Oh . . .

The rest of the family say
you'll be home next weekend.

I realise that I leave on the 5th
and don't get home until the 7th.

Early the next day, I ring.
Late the next day, I ring again.

Each time I ring you are asleep.

I try to get on to that night's flight,
but as I speak the plane from Santa Barbara
to LA flies over the motel.

The drive to LA is too long.
I book for the next night's flight. The 1st.

As I drive to LA the next day I talk to you.
Tears stream down my face.
Mum, don't die before I get there.

Against all odds I run into
the one person I know in LA.

This calms me.
I feel protected.

From the Melbourne airport,
I ring you.

You are asleep.

I am still reading Almanac of the Dead.

I arrive at the hospital.
A nurse asks me to wait in the family room.
I assume she's gone to tell you I've arrived.

Dad comes through the plastic doors.
You're too late, Dear.

I ask to see you.
You are sad and grey.

Two days later I wear
the black pants,
black socks,
black jacket
to your funeral

I have finished reading Almanac of the Dead.

copyright Susan Hawthorne
Broadcast ABC Radio National on "The Box Seat" 31 August 1995
Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, Penguin, New York, 1991.


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