Earth is the Mother of Metal by Jane Gregorie

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Editor's Choice, March 18th, 2019

"Metal is autumn and grief and weeping and the color white and the mother of Water."


Personal Essay by Jane Gregorie

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Earth moving into metal is the aspens going yellow, then orange, then brown, their summery whisper turning into a dried-up rattle of a sound. Earth moving into metal is the thin veil of frost glittering dry blond grass and pine needles and soggy leaves and mica-sparkled sand. It’s the Mosquito peaks dusted white again, reflective and dramatic: black against white against blue, in and out of shadow under every shape of cloud, changing.


Earth is late summer and squash blossoms and full bellies and the sound of singing and sweetness and sympathy and inertia and the mother of Metal. Metal is autumn and grief and weeping and the color white and the mother of Water.


The aspen leaves were yellow at the rim of the Black Canyon when I talked to Dicksie about the lump she found under her armpit. I was sitting under my silver shade tent, looking at the cliffs on the other side of the canyon. There were dirty breakfast dishes on the picnic table: remnants of sausage and maple syrup and gluten-free pancakes. My dogs were tangling their leashes up on the tent poles and chairs. Small deer wandered through the scrub oaks in front of our campsite.


          “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said. “You just finished all that chemo and your immune system is weak. You might have an ingrown hair that just got infected and made a lymph node swell.”

          “David said I shouldn’t be paranoid about everything I feel now.”

I could tell she felt shame and fear and powerlessness all mixed up together by the tightness in her voice.

          “Fuck that. You can be paranoid if you want,” I said. “It’s totally natural with what you’ve been through. That pisses me off. I’d be worried too. But still—I bet it’s nothing.”


Later, one of my doctor-sisters said the lump felt bigger on Monday compared to when she had first felt it on Friday.


Monday was Labor Day, September 5th, 2016.  I need the dates to be proof, to crystallize memory, to become ritual offerings to the spirits who spin time.


Earth moving into Metal is sweetness gone rotten. Earth moving into metal is pumpkins dissolving in compost, dead grass, leftover plant stalks drying out and breaking, littered bits of summer garden.


When I found out Dicksie’s cancer was back and spreading, I texted her husband panicked:

I’m coming out there right now.

He texted back to wait. They didn’t know what they were going to do.


I didn’t go right then.


There were specialists at UNC and Vanderbilt and radiation treatments and it was only 72 days from our conversation on Labor Day until November 16th and I still try to imagine having more days than just two.


Metal feels like longing and regret and mourning and remorse. Metal is the moment the last leaf lets go of the branch.


Before the 70 days, I missed the better part of six years with her because I was righteous and mean in response to a small thing she did.  We barely spoke for several years.


Metal is surrendering.


In 2014 we got close again. She filled her country house with groceries for my family when we stayed there at Thanksgiving: Trader Joe’s chia seed peanut butter, homemade granola, organic cow milk and almond milk and La Croix and hot chocolate and salad greens and gluten-free bread.


In 2015 we went out to a boozy dinner in Denver with our husbands.


In 2016 she was diagnosed. When she was going through treatment we talked all the time.


Metal feels like the sudden shock of loss.


It’s the breathlessness of remembering the day I debated going to see her one week or two weeks earlier than I actually did.  It’s the weight of those days that fills my lungs to the point of drowning.


Metal is the gut-clenching, chest-tightening feeling of wanting to call her about my son’s reading or paint colors or family drama and then realizing I can’t.


It’s the years and days and moments that choke me now: how she left for college when I was only eleven and as the last of my six siblings to leave, how I’d always missed her the most. It’s the nights I spent at her house instead of my parents’ in high school and college and for years after because her house felt like home and there was always food and kids and she lived at the beach and let me wear her clothes and tag along with her on boat rides and to dinners and to parties. It’s how she took me to Kerrison’s Department store on King Street to get my first bra: a double A padded Lilyette with a small pink rosette at the center. It’s the road trip she took to drive me to college in Vermont. It’s all the things I forgot.


It’s her body being gone.


It’s the also true that she was a spark. Dicksie was all Fire: laughter and connection and warmth and red and summer and joy and the mother to Earth.


When I picture the morning of November 16th  I see white: white cotton blankets over white sheets over her white from-home baby pillow. White plastic mini blinds and white morning sun above the sea-flooded streets and the white cot where I slept and the white ceiling tiles and her white hospital gown and her words gone and all the dryness on her tongue and spooning her one last time when her husband went to Starbucks for coffee and what I said with my skin touching her hot skin, her heart beating like a hummingbird heart, her breath faint, her body in the same position as it had been the night before.


She slipped out when we weren’t looking, when we were distracted and chatting, when things weren’t serious or heavy.


She made it easy for us, even then.


Fire melting Metal, laughter within grief, her particular eyeshine like flame, always rising: ringing bells, Christmas lights, flying fish, lightning bugs, all things magical and floating and bright.

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Header image courtesy of Jessica Dunegan. To view her artist feature, go here.

Jane Gregorie is a writer, acupuncturist, fertility expert, mother, spouse, and activist. She is inspired on a daily basis by the hundreds of women who have braved their family-building struggles with her over the past two decades. She is soon to be published in Entropy and is working on a memoir about her Southern childhood, adoption, and race.


Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.