by Polly Hollar Pauley
I recently read that Japanese ceramic artists think that an item that has suffered damage becomes more beautiful, and that when an item is cracked they will fill in the cracks with gold.
This evening we went to church for a hayride, one of the many advantages of an uber-rural congregation. I hadn’t been on a church hayride since before we had children, and today we snaked up the hill past the cemetery where my mother’s grave is, curved into the vast cornfield and continued to where the corn stops and the clearing begins.
At the clearing, under a low and overcast sky, I suddenly wasn’t hearing what anyone else said. I saw myself as a child, hiking the field with my mother and sister, in the snow, hunting down our Christmas tree. I saw us riding in the back of my father’s pickup truck, bouncing along the edge of the pasture where the Holstein grazed. And as we continued on the ride, I realized we were about to enter the woods.
Years ago I was a child who lived on the edge of those woods. Some pretty mornings we walked to church this long, back way. Our ancient house had its back to the highway and faced, instead, the old road in the woods–the road that twisted and curved up, up, up to the pasture and the cornfield and the church.
I had not been in those woods since I was little. Time and space twisted. My husband commented that “this was a long way to walk to church!” but I could barely hear anyone. I saw myself walking that road.
As the house came into view I couldn’t hear or think properly.
* * *
Who is the ghost? Was it the little girl who looked out of the north bedroom windows? Was it the child who would sit and watch the trains as they crossed the valley? I thought of that girl, of her hurts and fears and hopes. I thought of her sitting at the kitchen window in the dark months, waiting for mom to return home from work. Happy to see those headlights coming down the gravel driveway. I thought of her practicing piano at the old Stieff, roller skating over the freshly-waxed floors, fading into herself one vicious winter.
I thought of the secrets she left buried in the house when we moved–letters in a little closet. Things she thought she could leave.
Or am I the ghost? In the recesses of that girl’s mind, did she ever think that in twenty-five years she would suddenly be face-to-face with her adult self, bumping along on the back of a haywagon with her arms around her son? Did she stand back there now, puzzling over a fleeting glimpse of a little daughter with hair the color of hay, curling in the evening drizzle, wrapped inside her daddy’s arm?
When I think of that house on the side of the mountain, I see the devotion my mother gave to us, and the love my father had for us, and I see the cracks that split me, that kept me split, for years.
And what I know of God is this: He fills the cracks with gold and He does it in a way I can never, ever understand or predict. Because the ghost of that girl could not comprehend the woman who passed by the house tonight. She would feel the damage and the history and the cracks that were already splintering her. But somewhere in between the stacks of hay and the bare November trees, I hope she also saw a glimpse of the gold.
Polly Hollar Pauley’s poetry has been published in The Hollins Critic, Cider Press Review, Artemis, and The Allegheny Review. She lives in the Appalachian Mountains with her husband and children.
Photo credit: Linvilla Orchards (www.uwishunu.com)