They've arrived. Six small pots, gifts of art to my family someday—delivery date to be determined by my life span. I decided to commission them (that sounds awfully grand) after my father died and I discovered that he had not only left directions for what he wanted done with his body, but he'd paid the bill. No trying, with my brother, to figure out "what Dad would have wanted." The guy knew his mind. Well, so do I.
Soon after getting home from his funeral, I told my family what my plan was. There's no dire illness and—barring out-of-control trucks on I-5 or a fault line going active under the house—no urgency. Still, they know what I want: a home funeral, a wake, cremation, a gathering that opens with Gershwin's Second Piano Prelude and closes with the overture to Die Fledermaus, with a lot of good bourbon and storytelling in between. And for each of them, a small raku pot of ashes, the contents to be dealt with according to their own solemnity or whimsy, the pot to be a forever-gift, covered with symbols from this life of mine.
To make them, Raku artist Joan Govedare of Night Sky Studio talked with me for long months of laughter and philosophizing. I gave her my name in Chinese from my speaker's badge at a conference in Beijing, Al debaran—the eye of the Bull—written in Arabic, a map of the Pleiades, the mark of the water bearer, spirals, spirals, spirals, and most importantly Phi, the Greek symbol for the math of the Golden Mean, 1.618, the number that underlies the beauty of so much of creation, from galaxies to DNA.
We researched the volume of ashes a person my size becomes and divided it by six, so we knew the size of each pot. Joan showed me shapes and I chose favorites, she painted pictures of how the symbols could be used. I picked a palette of colors I love. She asked me to come to an early firing, and I put one of the pots into a tiny kiln filled with pine needles. It wasn't lost on me that there were ashes involved.
And now they're here, not needed but too beautiful to leave packed, not distressing to me but possibly unnerving to my family. Where to put them, for however long? Solution: They are lined up on the window sill above the desk in my home office, between me, the forest, the Salish Sea, and the Olympic Mountains, all that beauty out there, somewhere behind the rain.
I'm not surprised that these objects too are beautiful—Joan's work always is. But I am, despite all the planning, surprised that they're so... jolly. The shapes, the colors, the handmade-ness—they look like silly-hatted, pot-bellied dancers celebrating some delightful event. And they smell of pine. I had no idea they would carry the scent from their firing. And yes, I hope that lasts till my firing and beyond.
For now, they will stand (almost dancing) in my daily view, my memento mori, much more festive than those Victorians with desktop skulls reminding them that time is short. Yes, pots, I'm in my 80s, there's another book I want to write, there are more things to tell my kids and theirs, poems in the drawer that I haven't chap-booked, faraway friends I need to have long talks with, and I want to see the Alhambra... if not now, when?
I'm on it, little dancing pots. Thanks for the nudge and the smile.