May 26, 2009

The Perfect Black Blazer

by Bobbi Lurie

The head nurse called to say
Mom threw a potted plant,
smashed the TV set, banged
her head against the wall.
When I got there I saw the deep
         bruise on her forehead.
She could barely speak so we sat
     mute for some minutes.
I watched her slide to the side
of the couch as she scratched
her arms, pulled at her hair.
I needed to bring her back
        so I told the story of
our Saturday excursions,
searching for the perfect
black blazer.
                  I exaggerated
the futility of finding
something immaculate like that,
something slim-fitting and neat,
able to match any pair of pants
or skirt we wore.
                         We never found it
of course but kept searching
as we watched other women
more glamorous than we were.
           When I asked if she
remembered that, she laughed
                 and said, "oh yes."
I looked around the room
into the distant faces,
haunted hair, blank stares.
"Time for lunch," a nurse yelled.
I walked Mom to her chair,
           watched the aides tie
bibs around the residentsí necks,
       leaned to kiss
Mom gently good-bye on her cheek,
   trying not to notice
she no longer smelled like
           my mother.
She had taken on the scent
of the urine-ammonia halls
and the talc caked heavy
                  on her body.
I walked out, then felt
       something strange
like a voice without words
tell me to return so I ran
                quickly back
to where she sat, her hands
         on her lap.
They were the same hands,
so I squeezed them tight,
kissed her for a second time.
Only this time I hugged
   her close,
            inhaled deep,
   took her all in.

"The Perfect Black Blazer" by Bobbi Lurie, from Letter from the Lawn. © Custom Words, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In 1897 on this day, Dracula, by Bram Stoker, (books by this author) was published. Stoker added several chilling details to the age-old vampire tale: that the undead show no reflection in a mirror, that they shun garlic, and that they can be killed only by a stake through the heart.

It was on this day in 1689 that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (books by this author) was baptized. She was born in London a few weeks earlier, but her exact birth date is unknown. She came from a landed family, hung out with early women's rights advocates, and when her parents disapproved of her boyfriend, she eloped with him to the countryside.

The man she eloped with, now her husband, became a Member of the British Parliament, and Lady Montagu became renowned around London for her charm, beauty, and sense of humor. A year into his Parliament term, her husband was appointed ambassador to Istanbul, at that time part of the Ottoman empire.

Lady Montagu wrote many letters about life in Istanbul during the couple of years that she and her husband were living there. One of Lady Montagu's biggest achievements is that she introduced the idea of inoculation to the West. In the Ottoman Empire, she'd witnessed the annual ritual in which elderly women injected healthy people with a small amount of the smallpox virus, which allowed them to build up an immunity to the disease and therefore not become ill later when they were exposed to the contagious virus going around.

The vaccine that was later developed by English scientist Jenner was different in that it used a pox strain from cows, cowpox.

About 20 years after she and her husband left Istanbul and returned to England, Lady Montagu left her husband and set out for an adventure abroad. She stayed in touch with him, writing loving amiable letters, but she never saw him again. She spent time in Florence and lived in France. It took decades and decades for her letters to be published: Letters and Works came out in 1837, and then an edited collection, The Best Letters of Mary Wortley Montagu, was published in 1901. A new edition of her Turkish Embassy Letters came out in 1993.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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