Updated: Jan 26, 2022
For those who haven't followed this blog for long, I started this blog when I began to say kaddish for my mother, Irma Gershkowitz. The poetry only started when I began to write poems for our morning minyan; before that I had not written a poem since I was 14.
My mom and I had a great adventure during her last year of life. It was a photography adventure where she posed with a variety of hats of the 20th century on her head and I took her photos. https://www.leannshamashphotography.com/anonymous
I took hundreds of images of my mom during her last years of life. The images were not limited to the hat photos. I took photos of her eating, dozing, reading, smiling and frowning. There are photos of her putting on her makeup, in the hospital, at the dining table. There are photos of her decline with dementia; particularly of the last month of her life. I took photos of her because I knew that we would soon lose her and I wanted to have clear recall of that time; of who she was and what she meant to me and our extended family.
Now, two years later, those photos are here. The entire collection of my mother's hat photos are upstairs and someday perhaps they will hang in a gallery somewhere so somebody else's parents can see the force of nature that was our mother. There are hundreds of photos on my computer and sometimes is it disarming to see her so full of life, but when I see those many images it does, indeed, help me remember Irma G and to understand her better and also understand how she struggled with dementia during that last turbulent year of her life.
As part of my Daf Yomi study, I recently read in Masechet Moed Katan about things that people can do during Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of a holiday such as Sukkot.
On page 9B:10 it is said,
"The Gemara relates that Rav Ḥisda’s wife would adorn herself on the intermediate days of a Festival in the presence of her daughter-in-law, i.e., when she already had a married son. Rav Huna bar Ḥinnana sat before Rav Ḥisda, and he sat and said: They taught only that a woman is permitted to engage in cosmetic treatments on the intermediate days of a Festival only with regard to a young woman, as such treatments bring her joy, but in the case of an old woman, no, the treatments are not permitted, as she does not need them." (translation from Sefaria)
Later there is a different opinion, that indeed older women can and should adorn themselves, but this discussion of lipstick and adornments, brought back one of my favorite series on my mother, of her putting on makeup in her bathroom. Because of the hat she is wearing, I am guessing that this was one year before she died and she was preparing to have me take her photos for the project. This image and this section of the talmud had me thinking of older, very older women, and the use of make up to make them feel beautiful again and young. This is the poem that resulted. My father makes an appearance here. During her final year, mom often dreamt that my dad was in the room with her.
She isn’t who she used to be;
no longer at the center of the dance floor.
Eyes no longer wander to stare at her and smile.
Her red robe flows over her thin frame.
Her back is thin and bent.
Nails, once polished, now chipped.
Her breasts lie long and flat on her belly;
her legs thin as rails.
She stands unsteadily at the mirror;
her walker her constant companion now.
The fluorescent bulb reflects coldly on her face.
She leans in to stare at her reflection
She studies herself.
Her head tilts to the right
and then to the left.
of being the belle at the ball.
She pictures a red rose in her wavy hair.
She can see her husband,
long gone now,
wink at her from the shadows.
With a trembling hand
she picks up a tube of lipstick
the color of tangos,
the hue of a marimba band.
She applies it to her lips.
They slowly stain red.
She presses her lips together firmly and smiles.
She opens her compact of rouge.
paints it on her cheeks;
brushing, caressing them with care.
She stares at the mirror.
Her eyebrows raised provocatively.
Her clouded eyes wake up.
A small nod.
She turns her head right and left
and for a moment the florescent bulb is a candelabra
and the bathroom floor is a ballroom.
Her robe becomes a
flowing scarlet gown.
She hears music.
The man standing in the dark beckons to her to dance.
And in the mirror she is young again;
fresh as a flower in the spring.
With a trembling blue veined hand
and pouting red lips
she blows a kiss at the mirror.
She heads to the dance floor,
*** ** *** **
Dedicated to you, mom, with love always.