VI: Interlude | Uncomposed: "Lexicon"
G for Georgia, O for Oscar, T for Thomas, again O for Oscar. My mother spells out her maiden name on the phone. She never let it go, hyphenating it with my father’s last name. My mother always reminisces about objects she has lost over the years, stained-glass windows of reaching tulips, peridot earrings, kimono vest, even entire wooden doors. I remember her shock when she realized my father had stopped paying for the storage unit down in Southern California, the one up in Sonoma County. It took her a year to find out, and by then, the furniture she had collected over the years, maybe even some of my childhood clothing, had all been sold at auction or thrown away. But through all this, she always kept her name, her pride undiminished. Moon scuffles through the blinds, satellite and wonderful.
Rain hits the roof like the clacking of spoons. I like the sound of rain, distinct and grander than my own pulse. It reminds me of my own longings for family history. I think of my father and his singing oh those raindrops keep fallin’ on my head they keep fallin’. I have never known where to place the gap of myself. I have never looked up the name of that song, because it is secondhand from my father. What I do know is scraps, collage. He used to take me on drives at night so I could fall asleep. He’s always had insomnia himself.
My father tells the same few stories with different details each time. I don’t think he lies on purpose. I think he has forgotten and so palimpsests new scenes over the nonexistent. His older brother living in the middle of some desert with strange allergies, his younger one a six hour drive away in a house that gets smaller with each new layer of paint, his father a brain aneurysm at the breakfast table. All he remembers—or perhaps he made it up—is that they couldn’t fit his father through the kitchen door on the gurney. His father’s neck must have fit the pale part of the sky. It was still early in the morning. Some days, I need to believe him. The version of the story doesn’t matter—it becomes our truth because it is named.
My mother weaves bamboo into wreaths and places freeze-dried orchids, mimosa, ajisai, grape leaves into art. She calls this piece Harmony. The wind sings, undoes her careful angles. The way she calls me to the room to watch before it’s erased forever—I think she doesn’t want to be forgotten. I think she wants me to remember everything she has touched.
My mother once told me her friends called her Maki-chan in high school, a shortened version of her name. It sounds too light for her now. I wonder if she was ever so unsure of herself, if she ever made mistakes in love, if love was even a consideration. She’s made vague references to an engineering student she dated when in college. I can only imagine they walked the streets of Tokyo at night. For some reason, I always think her hand in a boy’s during humid summers, something little, not too substantial, roaming and casual. Her time in Japan has always been a bit hazy to me.
But not her first husband: she becomes more and more specific with each year that passes. Once she gave me his full name and the street of the last place she knew he lived. It felt like a gap, a sudden silence. A pause in the music.
My grandmother went to the Boston Conservatory for music, and my father tells me that when I sing in the shower, he hears her. She was born in the ‘30s, received her masters degree at a time when it was uncommon for women to do so. I know only snippets: she was a powerful woman, ringlet hair like mine. A single photo of her in a darkly lit restaurant with a young, mustached version of my father. There’s not much more that I know about her besides English teacher, alto’s voice, dead at 65 from an enlarged heart. Other than that, I think my father and my uncle both had the same method of paying her homage, giving both me and my cousin her middle name. Hope.
I remember, through the years, my mother being frustrated that she was forced to take conversion classes—because in Judaism, the mother must be Jewish in order for her child to be recognized as Jewish. My mother never ended up converting but went to synagogue with my father and me every Friday evening for Shabbat. Sun setting outside against the stained glass, the weight of the blue prayer book in our hands. I think she always thought of it more as singing than as praying, and this she can’t help but love. Often, I don’t think she knows she is singing, while gardening, walking, washing the dishes—and this I have inherited from her. Sometimes in the car, she sings Japanese words over the Jewish prayer melodies.
My mother, sleeveless white dress and smiling, hand on my head, the Saturday morning of my Bat Mitzvah. Despite my mother’s never converting to Judaism, she gave me my Hebrew name before my Bat Mitzvah. Eden, the original garden. I think this was her way of reconciling me: garden and flowers, Jewish and Japanese, father and mother.
At the kinkaku-ji, or golden pavilion, in Japan, my mother decided to change the character of my name to showcase my entrance into adulthood. I would no longer be Hana, the flower, standard meaning that all white Americans are proud to know. I would be named after center, after power, imperial splendor, brilliance. I wrote it over and over again in pen, inking it like a symphony, the music finally starting again. Left to right, up to down, by heart for always.
For all this effort that’s been made with my name, I was called Hannah for the first six months on my life, and my legal name is still Hannah until I can change it. When people learn this fact about me, I either receive their respect or I don’t. But either way, my mother yells at me from the kitchen for dinner, Hana, a tiny song. Emphasis on the first syllable, lasso to pull me in. Second syllable, lower in tone, more like ripples in a pool, the expectation of my proper response to de-Anglicized, another realm, an open door, yawning me in as if I were air. My name and I, me and my mother, two grace notes reaching for each other across vast silence, spanning the whole Milky Way—or else a bridge of ravens.
(Uncomposed is a column, originally written by Lydia Eileen and now by Hana Widerman, that explores the music in the moments of daily life where we don’t think to search for it—intersecting to form new meaning and nuanced dialogue. This column, along with two more by the HM team and dozens more pieces of art, music, and writing by contributors, is published in Half Mystic Journal’s Issue VI: Interlude. It is available for preorder now.)