by Tim Gilmore, 5/9/2021
cont’d from Willowbranch Park and Cenotaph for Dogwood
My mother died three quarters of my life ago. All these years and still I feel her absence. I’ll not selfishly pretend, in honoring her, that just by being my mother she was more a person, more a woman. Other than and before me, she was herself. So I must love her as if I’d never been born. Yet how I miss her!
It’s Mother’s Day, 2003. The inscription on the stone base of California sculptor Bruce Wolfe’s “Mother and Child” reads, “Our dreams live on in our children.” Something about that sentiment hits me wrong. That can’t be fair to our children. To us. To women not mothers. To mothers themselves.
As though women not mothers need have no dreams? As though the plans we’ve failed we should foist on our children? As though children approach their parents sometime in the beforelife, ask to be born, and negotiate their conditions?
At least the woman’s worry lines are right. I remember the care in my mother’s eyes. Laugh lines. Lines that living cuts into the face.
How, versus a Duane Hanson sculpture, might Bruce Wolfe’s 13 foot tall Arnold Palmer swinging his golf club at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando fare?
Must realism always already also [the triple ‘a’] be satire? What might happen in the space between a Duane Hanson sculpture and a Wolfe?
But never mind. The lede in The Jacksonville Daily Record reads, “Friends and family gathered Friday on the Northbank Riverwalk behind the [Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts] for a ceremony honoring Patricia Austin, the late wife of former Mayor Ed Austin.”
The contours of the statue are lovely. As art must transcend itself, both particular and universal: this image of young mother with slender neck and classical garb flung flaxen across small breasts as she tends to the hair of young daughter with hip slung and one arm folded to hand braced on elbow of arm extended, daintily dangling a wrist before her very center—this subject stands out other than Patricia Ann Lynch Austin. Whether universal, she’s more maenad or caryatid than Venus of Willendorf, and/but Floridian more katydid than predatory stink bug nymph. And more any of these things than Patricia Ann Lynch Austin.
I’m sorry about Ms. Austin’s memorial tree. I’ve lost dogwoods before. Florida kills dogwoods readily. I cut a dogwood down on Rensselaer. The dogwood beside us died last year.
Now just out from our front porch, jasmine blooming white and fragrant in the moonlight freight train clarion and cricket song, the dogwood is dead and the citrus is sick. The purple salvia grown tall as me the hummingbird romances. My mother’s flower garden filled my childhood front yard too. Wood sorrel blossoms so tiny perfect purple are rarely recognized. Thus more perfect still?
I don’t know if dogwoods grow in the Holy Land. The swamps of Florida breed fallen angels and giants deformed and Nephilim. The Biblical legend of the dogwood heartbroken and diminished brings Christ, persecuted, for Jacksonville to murder its Savior right here.
Story has it. Cross carved from the dogwood. Flowering dogwood is Cornus Florida. Easter we always knew was pagan. Nail me too to a tree if you’re going to bring me back to life. I want to be that beautiful, but all I can do to try to achieve it is to write.
What a great grand glorious magnificent boastful broad invincible tree was that dogwood until the Crucifixion. And it was oh so shamed.
When my dogwood died, I chopped it down with a butter knife. That’s a metaphor; for what I’m not quite sure.
The plaque in Willowbranch Park reads, “In Loving Memory of Patricia Ann Lynch Austin who graced the lives of others by her presence. This dogwood tree commemorates her love of the story of the Crucifixion.” No dogwood stands behind the plaque.
Patricia Ann Lynch Austin loved the dogwood like she loved Christ. (My mother’s favorite tree was Albizia Julibrissin, the Persian Silk Tree, the Mimosa.) Austin’s family planted, in her memory, that dogwood in Willowbranch Park. I don’t know if dogwoods grow in the Holy Land. The dogwood is Cornus Florida and Florida kills the dogwood frequently and readily.
This small stone marker was never intended to be a cenotaph. The mayor’s wife was not the Unknown Soldier. (I think my mother may have been; all her life she fought so.) The death of the dogwood they’d dedicated, nevertheless, these facts did easily prophesy.