Friday, February 18, 2011

February Blues

For most of January and the first couple of weeks of February, I've been blue. That's what my mother would call it. Probably my deepest bout of depression in many years, or possibly ever. Just feeling sad (and yes, some of it probably was SAD--Seasonal Affective Disorder.)I've been exhausted, weepy, achy. And then the sun came out and the temps rose, and I made another trip to Jackson (Mississippi) to visit my mother, and it was 74 degrees and sunny. I went to dinner with a group of ladies in a wonderful book club in Jackson and spent the night with one of them. Jonni is a potter, and I enjoyed watching her work in her studio the next morning. My two days in Jackson definitely lifted my spirits, and hopefully I brought a bit of that sunshine back to Memphis with me. I'm bracing myself for a return to the cold as I fly to Pennsylvania this weekend for a friend's wedding.

Anyway, I thought I'd share another reflection from my work-in-progress, Sleeping With Poets: How Poetry Pimped My Prose. Here's Day 43. It's from Sharon Auberle's poem, "February Blues." Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

Enough of Everything
Day 43—Sleeping With Poets

Sharon Auberle’s wonderful poem, “February Blues,” dropped into my email inbox today (from and I immediately knew it was a gift.

Enough winter,
enough of everything
buttoned up, battened down

Even here in Memphis, we’ve had more snow in the past few weeks than in the past few winters combined. When we have snow, it isn’t the dry, fluffy stuff they have out in Colorado (where I spent a delightful New Year’s weekend at Breckenridge). Oh, no. It’s WET and it chills you through to your bones, especially if you’re old, like me. Or feeling old. Counting the days down to my 60th birthday (March 8) has felt like a dying woman checking off the squares on a calendar. And so I find myself screaming with the poet Auberle, “enough of everything”! (My exclamation mark, not hers.)

My mother’s birthday is one week before mine, and I just returned from one of my regular visits to her in the nursing home. Her Alzheimer’s continues to progress, and she really doesn’t understand what a birthday is. As I tried to explain to her that she has been alive for eighty-three years, the clouds remained over her eyes and her mind and a smile was fixed on her beautiful face. We shared a box of Pangburn’s Millionaires and I searched for things to talk about—the pansies on the patio at the nursing home, the unusual seventy-four-degree day in February—and then I thought about how beautiful she was when she was young. Her skin is still beautiful—olive, smooth, unblemished. And I thought about the romance she had with my father, over sixty years ago. I wish I had taken a poem with me to read to her (next time) like Auberle’s “February Blues.”

I want to be called Camelia
under a pink moon,
with the fragrance of apple
blossoms in the air.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes, hoping that some early spring fragrance will invade my blues-laden body, but it’s still a bit early. Because Mother doesn’t remember anyone but me now, and sometimes my father, I have to do a bit of world-building to keep a conversation going. We talk about the pansies over and over again, because she forgets that we just talked about them. And the hummingbird feeders, waiting to be filled with sweet sugar-water to welcome the hummers to the patio again this summer. Sometimes I bring coloring books and we colors pictures of flowers together, but today I only brought chocolates.

I imagine painting tulips

And so I try again to bring her back into the world of our family, because she never asks any more, “How are the children?” and because she has no concept that she has great-grandchildren.

“Mom, can you believe that you have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren? And Beth is getting married in May?”

She stares at the pansies and up at the bright, azure sky, which is speckled with small clouds, an artist’s dream. She looks back at me and says, “You are so smart to organize all that.”

I don’t know if she thinks I organized the clouds in the sky or the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but this is a typical comment these days. We sit silently for long periods of time now as I struggle to find things to say that she can understand. And yes, I’m anxious to return home to my writing, which is not so unlike the world-building I’m doing with my mother. Except that my readers’ minds are not erased the way Alzheimer’s is erasing the content of my mother’s life. They will understand what I say when I write about the world of art in Savannah and Atlanta. But will they enter the world of the fifth-century Egpytian prostitute, Neema? I must paint her world for them, filled with details from her life as the child of a government official in Damanhur, Egypt. I have to make them see the chiton—her morning tunic—and taste the hot raisin cakes, soaked in milk, that she eats with her fingers. And yes, I also have to make them feel the horror of the abuse she suffers at the hands of her Uncle Imad and his boss, Hasani. I have to help Neema go somewhere else in her mind when her young body is invaded. Poetry helps me imagine, as Auberle says

us, floating in a warm sea.
Or we could take tango lessons.
The net effect is the same.

The poet is escaping the winter blues through remembrance of flowers and pink moons and apple blossoms, of floating in the ocean, and yes, of tango lessons. I love that she titled the poem, “February Blues.” My mother always called depression “the blues.” Well, she would usually just say she was “feeling blue.” I’ve been feeling blue for about a month now. Like the poet,

I want your skin to smell like the sun
oranges, wild beach roses
salt and breaking waves


Gabriel Scala said...


This post is so lovely and heartbreaking. I try to imagine what it must be like to have your relationship with your mother so incredibly altered and can't. It's one of those emotions we all try to avoid feeling until absolutely necessary. What to say? Except that I applaud your perseverance and that if anyone has the right to the blues, it is you, dear friend.

Sit on the porch. Soak in the milder weather. And know that you are incredible.


Portals to the Holy said...

ditto! You are on a wonderful path Susan. I share your "blues" and journey with you each time you visit your mother. Thank you.

Cynthia Armes said...


Yes! Ditto again! This piece was just lovely. It moved me in such a personal way. I could not help but think about my own mother and miss her deeply.

I'm a new comer to Pen and Palette (thanks to Gabriel for putting you on her blogroll), and I will be back over and over.

Your grateful reader,


frank_ezelle said...


Last weekend I found myself with a knot in my stomach that wouldn't go away. My life has gotten so far behind in so many areas--there's a hopelessness about ever catching up and an uncertainty about which area needs immediate attention the most.

For the last week I did something drastic. Taking off work at noon each day, I then went home and did basically nothing. My main blog was handled by reruns of posts from 2008-09, no new photos were taken, no old photos were edited, some necessary chores were done, but I also took time to watch deep into a DVD series of the complete second season of "Twin Peaks". It's still as freaky as when it first aired.

My mini-vacation over the last week helped a lot. It didn't completely recharge my batteries, but at least I'm not trying to get through each down with my energy level down to my last 10%. Like those old vaudeville acts of plates spinning at the top of long sticks, many of us have so many plates in the air and it takes so much energy to keep them all from crashing to the ground. It can be such a physical and mental strain. I hope there's a way that you can just push away from most of it for a few days and work on building up those energy reserves.

For myself and so many people that I know, life has become so overloaded with commitments, chores, and creations we would like to build. It makes for difficult days, weeks and months, and sometimes what is needed most isn't more hours of work, but more hours of rest. Good luck with carving out some of those hours and days of rest.


Susan Cushman said...

Everyone's comments mean so much to me--thanks for reading and taking time to reach out to me. I'm heading out of town for a wedding and hope to relax and be "in the moment" this weekend! Hugs to each of you.

mary said...

As usual, I get recharged with your mom visits to Jackson. I am with you on this journey.. Remember me and know you are not alone.. You are a wonderful daughter and you inspire me to be more than I am with my mom.
Thanks for this lovely post....
Hope you had wonderful weekend in Penn. That's where my parents were from. A little village called Ridgway by Allegheny forest(near Pittsburgh by an hour drive or so.) A lot of wonderful childhood memories there. I am blessed to have them and a connection there. My dad is buried there and mom will be too.