A Line Across the Stars


(First printed in Gravel: A Literary Journal, December, 2018)
https://www.gravelmag.com/jaime-mathis.html


My lineage became fainter on April 2, 2018 when my paternal grandmother, Patricia Mae McDonald Mathis stepped out of flesh and onto the celestial trail home.

These days it seems like my attention is either aimed at the farthest observable glimmer in the sky, or at the shrieking 5-year-old red giant about to supernova at my feet.

But one afternoon as I stood alone on my porch, watching morning glories lifting and floating on the breeze, I clocked the fading path. There would be no more phone calls to Grandma when I found the time, no last-minute pop-ins to browse the family tree and its shoe boxes full of silver photos and frayed newspaper clippings. The line was silent.

I sent her a card a week before she died, thanking her for her gift of 10 thousand dollars, given to each of the grandchildren as their inheritance. I told her that regardless of the money, I would always admire her strength, resilience, humor, and spice. That she was loved and treasured and a true matriarch, marking time and the tales of our kin.

photo credit: gravel literary magazine
It was her elegy, though I didn’t know how soon her transition would be. A granddaughter’s pre-humous reflection that she might gaze upon an impression her path made through the cosmos.
Comfort blanketed me as I mailed it, assured that she would get it long before she passed.

She died a week later. The card appeared unopened in my mailbox some days after her death.

I peeled up the flap, drew out the card and read my words in a daze. Yet comfort lingered. I felt the pull of my trail laid atop hers, stretching out through darkness and into space.

That’s the thing about blood-it stains into cell and gene. It carries the memories and the history of everyone who came before you. It transports our origins into our present and opens us to ourselves.

As I watched the wind move months later, I saw my spot in the grand succession of life slide into place. Remembered when my great grandmother had excelsiored and how my mother grieved her passing.

It was hard to understand as a teen, bursting with fecundity and overripe immortality. She was so old, an autumn leaf curling around veined hands and a shrinking stem.

I could see her now, one step closer to my crinkling eyes, as I glided towards the sky. The mental tally commenced, “Next it’s my mother, then it’s me.” One more row until my number was up. One more progenitor before I stepped into the cosmos.

I knew that Life doesn’t organize itself so neatly. Queue jumping happens all the time. Still, there is a brilliant security in having a buffer of elders standing between our own beating heart and the Great Leap.

Hopi wisdom traces the origins of their people to the Pleiades. Many other indigenous tribes claim descent from people coming from the stars.

It occurs to me that I am closer to finding the truth for myself than I was three months ago. I know that all the stories I tell myself of the importance of being kind, diligent, and hard-working are tools to mark the passing of time and make order out of endlessly finite days.

Even so, there is a piece of my familial truth that has moved underground, like a river suddenly disappearing into a subterranean network of caves. This water, that flowed without toll or dam, that greened my sense of is-ness and being in this body, has decamped, following its own gravity, tracing its silent trail.

In its wake, I can see beads of moisture lying on the channel bed, turgid and inviting for my son’s chubby finger. I feel my hands stretching out from shoulders firmly anchored in the middle of a chain of stars. 

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