The Artist’s Blog of Marlene Breitenstein

Exploring the creative process: inspiration, techniques, challenges, results.

Memento, a Poem

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Artist, History, Poetry, Writing

This poem, Memento, was in response to a prompt from writer Margaret Sefton, on the Mastodon social media platform. The prompt was for anything in 50 words, using the term “gossamer.”

gossamer • noun • gos· sa· mer ˈgä-sə-mər 

  1. a film of cobwebs floating in air in calm clear weather
  2. something light, delicate, or insubstantial

adjective : extremely light, delicate, or tenuous

More interesting background for gossamer at Merriam-Webster.

Here’s my poem, followed by the backstory and inspiration:

Memento

She lay headfirst on the table before me,
A slight and youthful beauty,
Gossamer hair fittingly pale blonde,
To match her translucent skin.
In 15 years, I never saw another
With hair so impossibly fine,
Floating into my oiled hands,
Unbidden, undesired, and yet …
A cherished memory; a muse.

Painting by Friedrich Heyser from around 1900, of William Shakespeare’s tragic character Ophelia, from his play Hamlet. She is depicted as a young woman in a white gown, floating among water lilies in a lake, with her arm outstretched.
Painting by Friedrich Heyser, ca. 1900, of Ophelia, William Shakespeare’s tragic character from his play Hamlet.

Backstory

For 15 years, I was in (mostly) private practice as a medical massage therapist. Some clients came simply for relaxation, many others for my specialty in pain management. However, my super-rare, very special specialty was in vocal massage therapy. As such, I saw clients with vocal pathologies, resulting from birth disorders, trauma, surgeries, brain tumors, cancers, radiation treatment, and other medical conditions. Further, I worked with professional singers, and folks with speech-heavy professions, like trial lawyers. I did a lot of work around the head and neck.

Now, being a particularly conscientious massage therapist, I was always hyper-aware of getting oil in people’s hair (assuming I was using oil, which wasn’t always the case). This was, unsurprisingly, due to my own experiences. When I went for massages, I’d repeatedly had my freshly-washed hair oiled up by other therapists. Many of them, in fact. I hated it, and could never understand how so many could be so thoughtless. Some of them weren’t just careless around my neck, but they’d purposefully run their heavily oiled fingers through my hair. Subsequently, instead of allowing the oils to condition my body until the evening, I’d have to shower immediately upon returning home, simply because my hair was now an unsightly mess.

Inspiration for the Memento Poem

Fairly early in my career, I practiced medical massage in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. One day a client came in, and she had the finest, most wispy hair that I have seen, before or since. It wasn’t sparse, just ultra fine and soft. I didn’t know individual strands of hair could actually be so thin. Her hair was shoulder-length, and I wondered if she could grow it any longer, before it succumbed to stress and broke.

Naturally, when this client lay down on my massage table, I was acutely aware of just how fine her hair was. In fact, gossamer was exactly the word that then came to mind. And, indeed, her hair practically floated into my oiled hands, despite my careful attempts to avoid such a fate. Oh, well. I apologized to her, and she said it didn’t matter.

But apparently it did, at least in my memory. Her hair was so remarkable, I’ve never forgotten it. She reminded me of so many beautiful, pensive, even sad paintings of lovely young women, like the one of Ophelia I include above.

And now she’s inspired my little poem, Memento. It’s short, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Thanks for your time and attention, both are valuable. 🙏🏻
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