• John Diamond-Nigh

Three peonies and a funeral

I’ll get to art; but first some words on sorrow–its butterfly arabesques.

My mother’s recent funeral was all one could hope for in terms of beauty, tribute and restraint. She had lived a very long and colorful life. Funerals so often are tragic. This was poignant, lyrical, almost liturgical. Girded with flowers.

On either side of that hour, however, were two days of a nearly unending mosaic of conversations that for me touched closer the essence of memorial than either the speeches or the interment under the shady pines of Canada’s oldest and loveliest cemetery.

–with people I had not seen since childhood. Gentle overseers of my rumpled, dissident youth–long forgotten and suddenly there, smiling, asking if I remembered them, wondering who each of us, in the decades between, had become.

I’m Hannah . . . you knew my father.

Yes, I did. Long ago.

He made something for you.

Yes he did (genius machinist that he was), he made me a miraculous machine. A machine that aided in carving my bowls. His shop was like a wizard’s atelier.

You talk like your dad. Do you still have the machine he made?

I do. You know, he didn’t charge me a penny.

Why would he? You were just a kid. He in turn was grateful that a young person like you was interested enough in him and his work to come and ask.

Are you kidding? On top of that, all the stories he told about escaping from Russia during the Revolution. Those were even better than the magical machine.

Well, not after the hundredth telling–we laugh.

When Lynne and I returned home, we just sat in the darkness, listening to Edith Piaf, feeling how sadness and liberation can blend, and talking about how big things, elephant-big, can appear, all of a sudden, asking to be re-imagined, re-felt, re-futured.

My mother loved flowers with the exactitude of a 17th century Dutch painter. She loved, I think, their stillness most of all. When I finally discovered art, it seemed like a facsimile of peonies and daisies.

On the morning of her funeral, I made up this poem to read, and here it is. (The black cat was an adorable scowl-faced, street-fighting, field-fighting stray who adopted my pacifist mother.) She also, you may infer, loved hummingbirds, all birds.

The clouds in the birdbath will now understand

how what was contingent has quivered to still.

Go high on that mountain and rest for a while,

go high on that mountain and there you may find

a small black cat and a luminous man–

say hello for me. Death is a gift

a porcelain bowl with flowers you cut

a perfume of hummingbirds; there where you are

say hello . . . for me

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