Keening by Marin Heinritz

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Atop Mt Tam - Nimish GogriOnly movement soothes me still. Swimming laps at the city pool I am in my mother’s womb—in liquid, in liquid, in liquid, in motion. She swam day after day of her pregnancy, the only relief from carrying the load of my potential like a basketball atop her pelvis. Swimming and cucumbers: her regulars during that pregnancy. That’s why you love them both, she told me. I asked my fifth grade science teacher, who wore braces and had hair like a skunk’s, about it and she said it was a nice thought, but not true. But what did she know? She taught us there were four food groups and she paid no attention all year long that Katy Green rocked and moaned on her balled up fist between her legs while sitting on a short orange plastic chair.

What if it’s not motion but the proximity to another heartbeat that does the soothing? Maybe that’s what made Katy masturbate in class instead of at home in secret and alone. That’s a sweeter answer than one that pathologizes a young exhibitionist who grew up to be as normal as any other pretty middle-aged wife and mother who raised a family not far from that classroom where we learned that our mothers’ pregnancies had nothing to do with us.

After I was born I cried for days at a time. Colic, they said, but the only thing that soothed me was when my father perched me atop his shoulder and walked in circles around our split-level house in Oak Cliff singing a Celtic melody with nonsensical words. Was it the movement or proximity to his heartbeat or the sound of his voice, a voice that spoke guided visualizations to my mother’s belly while I was in utero, a voice that calms me still, though Mrs. Koop would poo-poo that notion, too.

Yesterday I took my body to the big lake, the nearest thing to an ocean. I exposed my curvaceous barren belly to the sun and watched the wind whip through the grasses sprouting up all over the dunes. Reminded me of my mother’s wispy pubic hair atop her massive mons veneris, not that I ever saw it sway in any breeze. The wind stirred the water to white-capped waves that moved as well as moved through me. I felt the pull of earthly and celestial things that make waves and felt myself again in my mother’s womb, a place that no longer exists except in my cells’ memory translated through imagination.

Whether the well-meaning but vacuous sentiment “her spirit is with us” is true or not, that body is gone, gone, gone. Incinerated into dust with the mala beads I prayed on throughout her final hours. Scattered so far west, as she wished, atop Mt. Tamalpais, carried by the wind, moving this way and that, to the Bay and the Pacific, with many particles refusing to go, collecting in the wavy, wispy strands sprouting from my scalp. When I tried to comb them out later while sitting at a gas station, the follicles shattered into hundreds of tiny little pieces in my lap. A man on a motorcycle caught me scowling and motioned through the windshield for me to smile. If he knew I was trying to shake my dead mother out of my hair would he have allowed me my grief?

During her first of many stays in the hospital I walked the spiral staircase up and down the floors, walked the city blocks to and from my house, walked and walked, as if I could pace away the fear. Putting one foot in front of the other was a task I could accomplish, no matter how precarious my mother’s heart, lungs, kidneys. The very center of her was turning to stone, and there was little I could do. I read her poetry. I brought her blankets from my bed, food from my kitchen, music, lotion, rosary beads. The blankets and food she accepted, but the only thing that calmed her was movement. In the middle of the night we hoisted her body into a doublewide wheelchair that could have fit us both, its bent chrome armrests reflected our images funhouse-style. Together we paced the floors knowing not what daybreak would bring.

marin heinritzOriginally from Dallas, Texas, Marin Heinritz teaches journalism and creative writing at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She is at work on a memoir about coming of age with cancer. Visit her website, here. Find her on Twitter: @MarinHeinritz



STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Namish Gorgi/Flickr Creative Commons

  6 comments for “Keening by Marin Heinritz

    • Guest – yes indeed; we’re referring to the story image in the image credit line, the one of the city from the mountain (We don’t put image credit in caption because we don’t want to take away from story). But nice author photo! 🙂

      • Thanks HipMag! Besides being a great writer, she’s an all around lovely person, and so fun to photograph.

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