Mother’s Day 2023
The Spitting Rain
She promises to catch me if I fall, as though
I’m way up high in a tree
and not walking on the sidewalk, holding her hand.
Just look at the leaves she says then, just look
at the clouds smashing into each other,
losing themselves in each other, turning
but she doesn’t really say this; instead
she says, let’s sit on this bench and watch the pigeons
while I smoke a cigarette. So I listen to the cooing birds
until finally she smiles, stands up and holds out
her hand. We walk to the butcher, then down
to the vegetable market where she tells me to stay
right here for a minute, to breathe the wonderful
smells, watch the flies and the little dog
who runs, yapping, between everyone’s feet—.
When I lean down to pet him, he licks my mother’s
perfume and smell-of-cigarette away.
On the walk home she lets me carry the bag
that smells like lemons and onions and oozes
a little, where I dropped it. Our shadows on the sidewalk
look like one person. As we walk
she promises again to catch me if I fall,
and we sit down for another cigarette, beneath
trees so huge that when rain starts
gently spitting, it hardly gets us wet—
and she says, let’s just sit here and see
if the trees will keep us dry; just sit here beside me.
So we sit hardly talking and watch the quiet rain.
When it stops, we walk home, where she dries me and laughs
at the way my hair stands up, and I laugh too
at myself in the mirror. Then she turns away
and goes into the kitchen, to start cooking dinner
while I sit and listen to the muffled voices
from the other apartments, and try to understand
what they might be saying to each other, through the walls.
The therapist said, “For her age, it’s fine,
right on track, but find her
something better to do
with all that creative energy.”
So I bought my daughter a guitar, got her a dog,
signed her up for guitar lessons
and the dog for obedience training.
That was the summer
of my mother’s stroke. Her left side
no longer worked. She kept trying to get up,
to get out of her chair, out of bed,
as if to find a door back to her old life.
When we would try to explain, she’d say,
“Who’s the mother here?”
Other memories of that summer:
my sister calling Mom’s impressive weight loss,
“The Stroke Diet”; Mom’s reports
of visits from her dead parents
and Jesus; my daughter announcing
that she was so a cat person.
I took the dog to his obedience training,
though it wasn’t the dog
that needed more order in his life.
At the Eye Doctor with Mom
These days she’s got nothing better to do
but be with me, co-inhabit the raised metal chair
while I look straight ahead through her eyes,
speak her thoughts in a voice that sounds
increasingly like hers. Together we take each test,
first the flashing peripheral light test we hate, then
the one where we try not to recall the letters
we called out two minutes ago with the other eye,
whether T-O-E-F-L or Y-C-S-P-T
because we’re here to get our vision checked,
not to prove our memory’s still sharp. We know
there’s no prize for a perfect score. But when
the tattooed assistant says she’s stepping out
to get dilation drops for us, and we mis-hear
and think she’s promised us “melon drops,”
though one of us is both imaginary and dead,
we share one mute disappointment.
[reprinted with permission of the poet from Poetry East #104, Spring 2022]