'Lacrimae rerum,' according to one of my teachers, was a Latin phrase chanted by monks in the wee hours of the night, when the veils between body and soul are the thinnest. This phrase can be translated as 'the tears of things,' or the 'tears in things,' a reminder of the grief and praise - the living suchness - that resides within the things in our world.
Others say this phrase arose from a poem by Virgil, a scene where Aeneas, witnessing a mural depicting a battle from The Trojan War, is confronted by the carnage of war.
I felt something kindred when my youngest son, turning fifteen this year, shared with me that the first of his circle of acquaintances - neighbors, playmates, schoolmates and teammates - was being deployed to Afghanistan. At the tender age of seventeen, he is being sent off to war.
For that I have no words, only tears.
This remembrance of the 'tears in things' - and an afternoon spent cleaning out the garage, when I came across my son's old fish bowl - melded together to create this poem.
After pinning up a free ad on craigslist, I placed the fish bowl - and the rocks, and the castle my son had saved up his allowance to buy, and the net - into the hands of another father.
He still wore his work clothes and work boots, the dust of the day's labor on his t-shirt and in the creases of his hands. He was taking the fish bowl home for his five year old daughter.
They would go to the pet store together, later that night, to pick out a fish.
Hand me downs by Karly Randolph Pitman
When my daughter outgrew her first set of baby clothes –
the onesies that could fit a doll
the little socks and hats that fit in the palm of my hand –
I tucked them away in a box.
There might be another baby,
a coming one
to wear those clothes again.
When my second daughter was born I opened the box.
She wore the clothes of her sister
and the memories of baby girl and baby girl
swam together in one sea.
The clothes were packed and unpacked two more times
for my sons,
until they cradled my last child.
I folded the clothes in a box again,
now to pass them along
to the newborn daughter of my friend Sara.
There was a time when my daughter collected rocks –
pebbles, gravel from the driveway, smooth stones from the river –
in buckets in our garage.
I bought her a rock tumbler to polish her rocks
until one day, the rocks had given way to soccer, then to origami
and to stacks and stacks of books from the library.
The rock tumbler was packed in a box
for the thrift store, a garage sale
or for a cousin –
I can't remember which.
And there was a time when my youngest son had a fish bowl
and three small beta fish, one after another,
all named Pablo.
The fish bowl, the net, the stones on the bottom of the fish bowl
and the Asian temple that he saved up to buy at the pet store –
the temple that reminded him of the kung fu
that held his heart for many years, until it did not –
they all, too, sat in a box in the garage
next to the kung fu swords and outgrown shoes.
Until one day I realized
the days of cleaning out fish bowls and buying fish were past,
and I asked my neighbors who was looking for a fish bowl and fish supplies,
and would they like to have it?
Sometimes it is hard to pass along what once held the scent and weft of love,
what marked a period of life that is now gone.
Do you cry
when you give away your child's baby clothes,
their outgrown things?
Some things I don't give away –
the slope of my feet
that is the slope of my father's feet
the shock of the sneeze
that is my mother's sneeze
the spidery bulge of my veins that is my grandmother's veins.
Some things I wish to recycle, or renew
(the voice in my head
that sounds like the voice in every woman's head
that sounds like the voice in every girl's head
that says there is something wrong
with my belly, or my breasts, or my hair, or my skin.)
Some things come to stay.
These hand me downs are not so easily boxed up or taken to the curb
or given to a friend.
And yet I wonder: what tears lie within these give aways, what tears
hold the soft release of their skin?
What tears hold what stays?