My friend Marjorie Zilen passed away last week at age 93. Marjorie was an artist and poet and much more to her family and friends. I first knew Marjorie as part of the Barrington Poets Consortium in the mid-1990s, the most productive and supportive writing group I’ve ever experienced. (It’s surprising to me now that Marjorie was in her mid-70s then. She seemed much younger.) Marjorie’s poems were always sensitive, simple, satisfying, and surprising. I remember asking her about a particular sensory image in one of her poems, and she said, “Color has always been very important to me.” I’d never heard anyone make that claim, and it’s always stuck with me. Marjorie was always supportive of my writing, and I valued her critiques and insights.
In honor of Marjorie Zilen, I offer here one of the poems from her chapbook Blue Tissue Paper (Moon Journal Press, 2000).
Blue Tissue Paper
In my grandmother’s words, everything was topsy turvy.
Momsie, my stepmother, doesn’t like the dining room décor
She says it’s ugly and old-fashioned
The dark brown embossed paper
Stiff like cardboard
Crackles as it’s peeled off the wall
The plate rail that held my mother’s treasures
The pretty plates painted with roses and poppies
Cut glass sparkling in the light of the chandelier
All to be stored in boxes
Barb Keller, my mother’s mother, is leaving soon
Returning to her home in Connecticut
I will miss her—she shared my bed
Standing at the dining room table
Blue tissue paper spread around
I step up on the rolled carpet
Baba is folding up my dead mother’s clothing
Wrapping each piece in blue tissue
Tying it with ribbon.
“They look like birthday presents,” I say.
“Blue tissue preserves the material, keeps it from yellowing.”
“Why are you saving them? My mother’s in heaven.”
I watch her wrap them
Fingering each piece as she folds it
The purple silk dress with flowered stripes, Irish lace collar
Straw hat covered with roses
Soft cotton nightgown with lace ribbons, embroidered butterflies
Funny pants open in the crotch
“So ladies don’t have to unfasten the waistband
When they go to the bathroom,” my grandmother whispers.
An ivory colored silk scarf she tied over her and hat and under her chin
Driving with my father in the Olds Touring Car on a windy day
All hand sewn by my mother and grandmother
For her trousseau
“Why are you saving them? She can’t wear them anymore.”
“We’re saving them for you.
When you grow up you’ll have them to remember her by.”
Her voice is suddenly harsh.
“Marjorie, stop teetering back and forth on the carpet.
You’ll break down the fibers … you’ll break down the fibers,” she said.