Ocean View: April 2, 2010


Ocean View
Friday, April 02, 2010
By Jude Rittenhouse

After days and nights of slate skies and flooding rains, ocean has once again appeared, wearing her softest blue gown. Looking at her today, it’s hard to remember her swollen black belly of three days ago when every puddle swelled into a monstrous lake, each rivulet grew into a racing river, geysers even spewed straight up from cracks in overloaded sewers—all of it flowing toward the sea.

Despite today’s sun, those record-bursting floodwaters continue to make navigating our little state a maze of dead-endings. Bridges in my town remain closed. To the north, the Warwick Mall sits flooded and abandoned, while Interstate 95 has only recently re-opened. Everywhere people ask themselves and others: How much more can we take?

Two weeks before this latest flooding, I flew back from a visit to see my mother, along with my sister and her family, in Illinois. I returned with a respiratory bug gifted to me by my two-year-old great niece. As I left T.F. Green airport, I noticed a car, with water up to its seats, stranded in a parking lot that looked like a pond. No one foresaw the rains to come these few weeks later. Nor did I imagine that my congestion would turn into pneumonia.

That last night in the midwest, before my early morning flight home to Rhode Island, I helped my mother get ready for bed, removing her teeth, changing her into pajamas and a fresh diaper: doing for her the kinds of things that she did for me when I was small. When I tucked her into bed and kissed her goodnight, she asked who I was.

I said my formal name, the name she gave me over half a century ago, and was surprised when a smile spread across her sunken face. I asked, “Why does that make you so happy?”

She replied, “Because I have a daughter named Judith.”

Now, nearly three weeks later, after several trips to the doctor, a litany of medications, a half-dozen boxes of tissues, and a vaporizer delivered by a friend, I am finally able to breathe and cry at the same time. So, last night, as a waning gibbous moon rose over ocean, painting it with light, my tears and sobs let loose, flowing in a cleansing storm.

In a nearby low area, around the corner and up the hill from our house, the street remains covered with water. A once-frog-pond has become a lake, flooding two abutting houses, the road, and spreading toward the house across the street. A mere decade ago, trees grew where those houses have since been built.

All these years, I have looked forward to stopping there on April evenings to hear the frogs sing. A year or two ago, my evening chorus went silent. I’ve wondered what happened, what was done to make the frogs disappear.

Like any one of us, earth responds to her bereavements. I consider how the world might be different if we each learned to feel and bear our oldest and most painful losses. We would loosen and stretch. Surely our hearts would open. We would see each other truly, instead of through defensive and deeply defended eyes. We would become capable of receiving ourselves and each other. We then could not help but help each other bear and carry even life’s thefts and deprivations.

Beds of daffodils in front of our cape house, planted by a deceased former owner, explode in a bounty of yellow-white-saffron. Newborn green fields stretch their skirts to meet the edges of sea’s blue gown. With my heart blossoming, I reach toward you with gratitude for your endurance and companionship on this strange journey, and I leave you with this poem, written in the voice of Noah’s wife:

No One To Say My Name

After sky pulled tight her impervious burqa,
hiding even her eyes. Allowing herself

to sob for all those stars she bore, miscarried,
disorbed. After her shoulders shuddered against

night’s heaving chest, the next day’s onyx coat,
another night’s thunderous breast.

Her rains annihilating crickets, mice, then
cats, sheep. I fell to my knees in the stench

of our ship, knowing that levees, coyotes, oxen,
humans would be next. Alone

but for my exhausted husband, three aloof sons,
their green wives. Remembering

my mother’s cheek against mine, my five sisters:
our songs, shared sorrows, feuds, laughter

the last time
we prepared Sabbath meal together.

When earth could bear no more
of sky’s torment and every air-dependent creature

knew terror as a long-ostracized brother
come home to abide in the bosom of his family,

finally children, slaves, grandparents, murderers,
merchants, converts, zealots all saw

through kindred eyes. At first
just grabbing whatever they revered, then climbing

higher. Higher. Frantic
to survive. Soon looking down at the growing

ocean. Noticing what they had left
permanently behind. All that former sustenance:

costumes, mansions, tenements, empty baskets
of hatred

floating, sucking, bobbing, washing.
So much flotsam. Like the name mama gave me.

Sky goes on crying.
I have no other sisters. Little remains

precious. That single green leaf. Evening’s
bruised-berry throat. Even these do not hold water.

No use to again seek out Noah’s blood-scored eyes,
hoping for his touch, his heat, any small kindness.

Better to watch my tears join sky’s, making this ocean
which holds us

Jude Rittenhouse has received a Writer’s Grant from the Vermont Studio Center, a first place short story award, and various poetry awards. In addition to her holistic practice, Integrated Healing Services, Jude teaches at conferences, retreats, schools, hospitals, alternative health centers, and domestic violence shelters. She is also an inspirational speaker and presenter for literary audiences, cancer survivors, spiritual gatherings, high school and college students, and other groups. In all of her endeavors, she strives to empower others as they explore their unique journeys toward wholeness.

To learn more about her holistic practice or to inquire about her poetry chapbook, Living In Skin, contact: Jude@JudeRittenhouse.com or call (401) 348-8079.

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