Mother’s Day 2020: Mothers & Moleskine
Cleaning Fish, Post Lake, July 1941
I always thought the photo of my grandfather
and his brother, with the scarred wooden table
between them on which they are gutting fish,
was about them, about the scarred woman
that came between them, but realize now
the photo is about my mother, whose arms
are no wider than the perch her uncle takes a knife to,
whose eyes are level with the metal tub on the table
where the men throw the entrails, her overalls hanging
loosely on her small frame, her shoes invisible
in the duff of leaves and pine needles, a froth of curls
around the tipped cup of her face, who isn’t afraid
of the knives, the blood, the slick viscera, the bright rain
of fish scales, who isn’t afraid to look at death.
Laura Hunter Colwin (1911-2006)
You think you know how you were made.
A strong, fast swimmer from your dad.
The word you know is penetrate.
Even now, decades after my work,
the school films show a winning sperm
forcing its way through epiderm.
I told you, and I’m telling you,
it’s not like that. Instead, make use
of terms like blend or merge or fuse.
It’s not a victim and a gun.
Not a pursuer and a pursued one.
More accurate to say incorporation.
It Is Almost Time
If we live on earth at all, pith of loneliness.
The belly of the whale.
I am ten, maybe eleven. Hell is a windowless basement,
with a room I call mine, above which
the whole house pretends to make merry.
I nail a crude sign–broken piece of wood –
to my door: STAY OUT. Inside that room
I take off my shirt and box against an invisible opponent:
Beyond my window
there is a three quarter moon roaming through the city.
I sit facing it with my coffee and know
it is almost time. The thing
about the three quarter moon:
it is all the more amazing
for being dead and risen
at the same time.
We never fully grasp, do we,
the blue and white of it slowly sinking.
Never fully grasp, even by its calm light,
just how difficult our lives are.
That we have mothers who die.
That we have choke holds and even
that they are used. That we never rise again.
If only we could grasp it, how rare it is
to be a life at all. If only we could truly see
that something in us is the old wolf,
forced out of the pack, too old
to want to kill, alone, hiding in the gully
at the foot of the hill, simply waiting.
And, too, we are the ones watching him.
After the first abandonment we grow more tender
(warning: this may take seventy five years.)
There was a mother who loved us, even
if only for a moment. If we live on earth at all,
we are someone who learns to love,
even if only for a moment.
Geomagnetic Reversal and My Mother’s Ethnoid Bone
Early in their marriage, when they’d get lost
my father would ask my mother which way to turn
then do the opposite. Worked every time.
A useful trait, once you identify it
and have the nerve to use it. Easier,
of course, if you are not the carrier.
Hard enough to trust your instincts to be right,
but to trust them to be wrong takes nerve.
The bank shot’s easier—trust someone else to use you.
They say there’s a crystal of magnatite
lodged at the base of your nose, between your eyes,
that is sensitive to magnetic north.
Homing pigeons have it. So do dolphins,
migratory salmon, honeybees, bats.
I have no doubt my mother had it, too.
But it’s also true the poles reverse
every three hundred thousand years or so.
Magnetic South has been, will be a fact.
In the last ice age my mother’s orientation
was correct, and at furious seventeen
I’d have sworn that’s the last time she was right,
The latest polar switch may well have happened
quickly, in a single human lifetime,
but daughters move at geologic speed.
Some rocks remember. They point to the pole
that pulled as they were cooling. No painted N
dissuades them from yearning toward what used to be.
Before I admitted that she had been right
most of the time, she had gone on ahead,
leaving me to navigate on my own.
For My Friend Who Told Me Don’t Fete the Dead
how can I tell him that every day I see her
smiling in her coral blouse, matching lipstick and her sunglasses,
sitting al fresco at our favorite Milwaukee cafe
while she orders her usual grilled cheese with avocado and tomato
with a side of pilaf she always wants
me to share and I say that’s okay Mom, thanks,
my garden salad is enough, which I can’t wait to finish
so that we may receive what she and I really came for,
what we have come here for every summer for so long
I can’t tell you when it began, here comes our waitress,
balancing two plates of blueberry pie plump and crustless,
they look like sapphires glistening in sun
beside hills of newly whipped cream, glory of the season,
of the light that does not die, of my beautiful summer mother.
A Stitch in Time
I’ve been thinking of my mother’s Singer
sewing machine, which didn’t actually sing
but made a guttural hum as her hands conducted
fiber across its throat plate. She’d lean
toward the machine much as she might have,
neck to neck, above the upper bout of a cello
had her father let her have one, and would work
the foot control as if she were keeping the time.