The sun was still below the horizon when I meandered into my studio and turned on the quiet little lamp on the ink stained table. The stains were my favorite part of the table and I held them as evidence that something important was happening.
For some reason, certain poppies fluttered in my head – those same poppies I'd painted last fall when I was dabbling in acrylics. Mom loved them. Why didn’t I give them to her for Christmas? Why was I waiting for her birthday? Sure, she loved the snowman catching snowflakes painting, but is there a rule that says a daughter can’t give her mom two paintings while everyone else gets just one? No. No rule. Just worry. Always worry.
The poppies had been hanging on the wall to cover the nail where the clock used to hang, left empty when, after changing its battery, I realized the nail would need to be reinforced. In the meantime, poppies would do. The more I’d been looking at them, the less beautiful they became until one day I laughed right out loud thinking about how Mom was being Mom, praising my first attempt. I mean, it was not that bad, but it wasn’t that good, either. However, to a Mom who paints, this art adventure I had discovered was too good to be true and she was excited by anything I painted – not necessarily because it was good, but because it existed at all. She joyfully received and displayed any piece I gave her. Maybe she was holding them as evidence that something important was happening. Even in her 80’s, my mom celebrated her eldest daughter opening to herself. Still, I took them off the wall, deciding the bare nail was more pleasing than my first stab at poppies.
There, in the studio, the poppies filled my mind as I imagined Mom lying so far away, dwarfed by a hospital bed surrounded by things that beep and blink and keep track of her on the inside.
Could I be with her, I wondered, when I was nowhere near her?
In the stillness around me, I felt the answer: Poppies.
My eyes landed on the large 10”x 14” shiny white tiles I had bought from the hardware store just a day or two before. This new size was appealing and I had set them aside where they waited, patiently. The surface was as smooth as glass and cold to the touch. Alcohol ink would slip and slide nicely. My inks had been unused for a few months, but now they were calling out with promises of poppies. I gathered up all of the watercolor materials I’d been playing with and put them away. In their place I set up a rainbow of ink bottles, the 91% alcohol spray, clean paper towels, and then rummaged through shelves and boxes until I found my lazy susan, which went in the middle of it all. The large tile fit nicely on the turntable. After giving it a slow turn, which led to gentle bobbles of my lamps followed by some adjusting and another slow turn, I was ready.
For what might have been ten minutes, or maybe an hour or more, I painted poppies for my mother. It all seems more like a wispy cloud than a memory, shifting and moving as I try to name it. Tears streamed silently while I softly sang, over and over again- be not afraid. I go before you always. The ink flowed and moved as if guided by a secret force.
Don’t be afraid, Mom, I thought, believing she could hear my thoughts. Don’t be afraid. Please, just please; don’t be afraid I whispered as the green ink trailed up into the sky, forming stems awaiting petals. I asked God to help her not be afraid, make her pain go away, and keep her safe. The song kept coming around and around; Come, follow me, and I will give you rest. One by one, poppies emerged in brilliant red against the azure sky.
Friday was hauntingly quiet. My phone never left my hand... it was so quiet. Mostly, I listened to music and prayed, asking God to give my mother peace, and my father strength.
The next morning was Saturday and, again, I was up before the sun in my studio preparing another tile. I began filling the cold, smooth field of white with warm yellow ink, like rays of sunshine bursting forth from a single point just right of center, singing to my mom all the while, believing she could hear me; you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Within hours she was gone. My husband and I, with the dog in the back seat, began our two day journey across the thousand mile line on the map for the only goodbye left to say.
I thought of the paintings and wondered if there was any way at all she could have actually sensed me with her during those early morning hours? I felt her. Could she feel me back?