‘O commemorate me where there is water
Canal water, preferably, so stilly-greeny in the heart of summer’
My father’s sister Pauline died last year. She was fifty. They’d fought, and I hadn’t seen her since I was twelve or thirteen, but that was all forgotten when she got sick. I visited her in June, birthday month for both of us. She looked well enough, though her face was swollen with steroids and her new hair looked shorn and wiry as a Brillo Pad. Same hazel eyes as me and Dad. I’d been flower girl at her wedding, in an ugly peach dress and the brown boys’ shoes I’d insisted on.
By September, she was back in hospital. My parents drove up to see her after work almost every night; 100 miles each way on terrible west of Ireland roads. They were glad to be family again after so many years, but so out of touch that they called her by her formal childhood name instead of the ‘Paula’ that her friends and neighbors used.
Her husband and kids were dazed and unbelieving, but Pauline knew she was dying. She asked my parents to buy flower bulbs and bring them to the house in Roscommon. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses—hundreds of them. Forty five pounds worth, Mum said. She gave them detailed instructions on where to plant. Tulips in a bed beside the gate; daffodils under the front wall.
‘I thought she had four more years,’ said her husband when she died two days later.
Now there are scores of tulips, crocuses and daffodils planted for her on the bank of the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn. It’s an unlikely spot. The locals boast it’s the only body of water that’s 90% guns. Last summer, as I dragged canoe paddles up First St, an old Italian guy yelled at me.
‘You canoe in that canal? Are you crazy? You’ll come out glowing in the dark!’
I asked him when was the last time he went down to the water, a block and a half away. Forty years ago, he said.
‘There are crabs and oysters in there now, you know.’
‘Well, if there are, it’s ‘cos someone dumped them, too.’
If Pauline’s bulbs flower by the Gowanus, I’ll take pictures and send them to my cousins.