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Saturday, December 29, 2012

A tribute to my mother, Anna Umiker-Güntert

On December 30, 2005, my mother passed away in Switzerland at the ripe old age of 102. I was fortunate to be able to spend the last four months of her life with her in my home country. She had been able to live at home almost until the very end thanks to the help of some wonderful caretakers, some friends of hers, and, above all, my nephew, Rico.

Although I lived in California, I spent several months each year with her. It was sometimes difficult to spend that much time away from my home in California but now, I am grateful for every minute I was able to be with her.
I wrote this poem many years ago when she was still alive, but it foreshadows what I knew would eventually happen:


nearing ninety winds the old clock
pulling the chains dangling
from the wooden case.
Time stored in her flesh and bones
seeps through her hands.

I listen to each shallow breath,
feel the faint trembling of her arm
tucked into the curve of mine,
as we climb the last steep hill to the store
on those muted winter days
which follow each other like dull pearls
strung on the thread of life.
The late afternoon sun casts
our thin shapes among the
shadows of birches and pines
coated with hoarfrost.

In the coffee shop she softens bites of
crusty bread and dips them into hot chocolate.
A drop falls on the face of Madonna
staring blue-eyed and beige from the
cover of Mademoiselle.

At dusk the waitress switches on the light.
My mother’s face,
white as a moon,
refracts from the window-pane.
I peer past her into the growing
darkness outside.
It’s not death I fear,
I am afraid of being the last one alive.

(From Path of Fire)