Michael Martone

Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 59 years ago, and in all that time he has only seen one person die, his grandmother on his mother’s side, Blanche. Of course, he has seen hundreds of people “die” in the synthetic recreations of the event acted out on stage or screen, but only that one time did he witness the cessation of life for real. It happened at the St. Anne Home in Fort Wayne where his grandmother had been a resident for a time. He was teaching at Syracuse University when he got the call from his mother and raced home to see his grandmother alive one last time. Later, the surviving family members, many of whom were there at the bedside as well, would say that Martone’s grandmother seemed to delay her passing long enough to allow Martone to arrive. And, indeed, it did not take long for her to finally let go (and it is an accurate description — letting go—with the gathered family all urging dying Blanche to let go). Martone was struck at how the dying appeared to be very much a labor, how it replicated the breathing and the struggle of the other kind of labor. Martone’s second son had recently been born in Syracuse, and the laboring of his mother looked a great deal like this laboring of his grandmother. St. Anne Home, interestingly, was originally built by the Catholic Church as a home for unwed mothers, and the room where his grandmother died had, at one time, been a birthing room. He returned to his classroom in Syracuse and gave an inspired lecture to his students, a narrative of his grandmother’s story ending, how we all struggle into life and then find a way to struggle out of it. This journal has asked for a contributor’s note for this issue. A deadline was approaching. Can I send a contributor’s note? The request came via the Internet, an email. He is typing the note now on a borrowed laptop. He is sitting in his father’s room in St. Anne Home on the second floor, not far from the room where twenty-some years ago with his father, who now lies a few feet from him here on his own deathbed, he watched his grandmother Blanche die.