By Gail Mazur
Because she’s 84 and living, the Elder Learning Center proclaims her
a Living Treasure. In the hall her photograph, drained of personality,
of spirit. Her hair’s not gray yet she’s posed here, an exhausted relic.
Never comfortable with leisure, she teaches a special course this winter
in Ephemera, the fever of her late decades. Today the class goes well,
the seminar table strewn with postcards and stereopticons—
the Headquarters of General Grant; a Settler’s sod house in the Dakotas;
the Great Mark Twain (in bed) and his Peculiar Manner of Work;
Flowers and Frost. Goes well, yet still to her it feels a failure:
the least she longs for as an elder volunteer is to ignite her “students,”
to feel loved, feel treasured. But she’s tough, she was always tough,
living history, a terror to me, even in this picture, the backdrop
a bulletin board of Gentle Yoga, Grief Support, counseling, lectures.
Tiny, dignified, her “porcelain beauty” hardly a memory, hardly
anyone living’s memory—a bleak defiance in the pale blue eyes,
in the tight-lipped smile that spelled calamity when we were young.
Work is the measure of a being, she’d say. I remember her weeding
the Mashpee woods, a mad perfectionism fueled by anger;
her, climbing a trembling extension ladder rung over rung,
a towel on her head, to exterminate a nest of spiders.
Today this condescension, Living Treasure. Not tribute—
rather, the crowning insult of her life, otherwise still unsung.
Copyright © 2015 by Gail Mazur.