Would you walk your heaven away?



I can't find the poem, but digging through every scrap of writing I could find turned up a journal entry I'd made back in January 1990. My brother was in the process of applying to colleges then, and for reasons I can't now remember was hesitant to apply to Syracuse, although it was a school that interested him.

While putting laundry on his desk that January day, I noticed an envelope addressed, in Poppa's hand, to Greg. Actual mail from our grandfather being a rare thing indeed, I had to be the snooping little sister and read the letter, which left me in tears as I slipped it back into its envelope and replaced it. Here's what it said:

'OK og [only grandson, which, at the time, he was], here's the 40 bucks for your application to Syracuse. I only expect one thing from you and that is to try. There is no shame in losing--only if you don't try. You have Finnish blood in you and we have a motto--SiSu. As you grow older and wiser you will understand what it is. Love from Poppa.'


My Poppa has died.

I'm standing in the middle of the Calgary airport yesterday, trying to dodge the hordes of passengers swirling around me, blurry in my eyes, while Dad tells me the news over the phone. He went peacefully, he says, and without pain. We were all there with him until the end. We held him and told him how much we loved him. He was tired, Em, and it was time for him to rest.

Between tears that are suddenly threatening to break me (but I can't let them, not here and not now), I murmur, I know, I know, I know. And I want that knowing to make the loss easier, but it doesn't. Not yet, at least.

I dreamt of Poppa on Tuesday night, in one of the small pockets of rest I got. He wasn't like he usually is in my dreams--strong and lucid and laughing. Rather, he seemed weaker, and his speech, when he spoke at all, was understandable but slurred (although he still said intelligent things). The last image I recall is him leaning wearily against a wall in a hallway somewhere and then, finally, falling straight back onto the floor. No one lifted him up, although I remember hoping they would. They seemed to know something I didn't.

In Pat Wallace's English class freshman year, we read Rita Dove's Thomas & Beulah, her paean to her grandparents, then wrote poems about our own families. I wrote one each about Gommy and Poppa, and considered those pieces among the best poetry I'd ever been able to create (a relative measure, to be sure). I tried to find Poppa's poem this morning, sat on my bedroom floor and dug through files, journals, folders. I came across papers, my thesis, every film analysis I wrote in four years of college--but no poem. I will keep looking. I'm convinced it's here, and in the absence of anything else to cling to, I need it.

Poppa was imperfect, sometimes deeply flawed, but still our cornerstone, deeply loved and (sometimes achingly) admired. I love him, and fretfully miss him, and only wish I had the chance to tell him so before he left.