In praise of Puotinen Women in this month of many Birthdays

Today, March 5th, 2012, would have been my Mom’s 70th birthday. She died on September 30th, 2009. I suppose that every year since her death, it gets a little easier to bear her birthday. That first year, I just wanted to forget it so I could deny the devastating loss. But this year, I want to remember and honor her life and the joy she brought to me and so many others. I also want to revisit some of my past memories of her, like my past reflection on her the day of her death, In memory of Judith (1942-2009), or my memories of Living (and not just grieving) beside her. I also want to watch the film about her (and some other Puotinen women) that STA and I made a few years back; I dedicated it to her:

The Farm Part II: The Puotinen Women from room34 on Vimeo.

And adding to the memories that I’ve already posted online, I want to offer up some other materials for the Judith Puotinen archive: A poem about dragonflies, written in April, 1987, shortly after her 45th birthday, and some images from her dragonfly pin collection.

Untitled.
Must you spoil my hours on the beach?

Just as I get my blanket straight
Wiggle my body into the accommodating sand
Comes movement like a spit-fire bomber
Zooming toward my head with the sound of a buzz saw
Swooping directly like a kamikaze pilot
And then instantly changing its course
Turning at a 90 degree angle toward the water.

Making me wonder about you dragonfly.

Sapphire blue wings of gossamer
Sprinkled with bits of glittering silver
Catching the sun like crystal mirrors
Ringing your wings like horned rimmed glasses
Around the delicate eyes of a sunbather.
Black, wormlike body directing your movements
Deliberately investigating creatures in your territory.

Pondering why your image sticks in my mind so long.

Crystalizing years after our close encounters
The intricacies of your insect nature
Finding that you are incredibly pleasing.
Recalling out of all of images of childhood
That of my beach time and your constant interruptions
Into my safe and secure world of dreams
Allowing me now the fun of investigation into your domain.

Realizing that it is indeed wonderful to be my age…

Now I actually thrill at learning about your unique jaw
And the playful nature of your buzzing and stunt pilot
Tricks which are really means of survival and territorial claims.
Not feeling ashamed but amazed by your water life
And stages of development and not least of all your
Incredible desire and instinct to eat the bane of
Minnesotan’s north wood’s life–the Mosquito!

Feeling gratitude for dragonfly antics on the beach.
Judy Puotinen
April, 1987

Wow, I love this poem and how it illustrates some of the qualities that I loved and valued most about my mom: wonder, curiosity, playfulness! How I deeply and desperately miss sitting beside her, maybe on the beach in the Keweenaw Peninsula, sharing in those qualities! This poem is especially valuable to me because it also speaks to my mom’s love of dragonflies. When my sisters and I were dividing up her stuff, I decided to take her dragonfly pin collection. I wasn’t quite sure why I picked it, but after discovering her poem in a random notebook, I know why. This poem and these pins enable me to bear witness (at least in memories) to my mom and her vibrant, joyful, creative/imaginative, always-questioning-and-wondering life. It’s nice to feel joy on her birthday, not just grief.

Part of my mom's collection

Two other important Puotinen women, both of whom share my mom’s wonderful qualities of joy, imagination and curiosity, celebrate birthdays this month. One turns the same age my mom was when she wrote her dragonfly poem, the other 6. In thinking about my mom this March, I want to also think about and celebrate these other Puotinen women (and even other Puotinen women who weren’t born in March) who carry on her legacy and embody so many of the qualities that I valued most in her.

5 thoughts on “In praise of Puotinen Women in this month of many Birthdays”

  1. Hey Sara.
    Thanks for posting this – I had never read that poem before. And I think how you have the pins displayed is lovely. Last year on Mom’s birthday, I drank too much and scared Adam and Glenn by the violent way I was chopping the potatoes for dinner 🙂

  2. I wondered if you’d ever seen this poem. It’s funny, on the actual poem, there are some corrections written in that look so much like your handwriting that I thought you might have edited it for her. It’s amazing how we’ve passed on physical gestures/practices (like how we write) from her.

    (oh, and nice mention of your violent chopping. Ha!)

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