Monday, May 11, 2015

Speaking of Mother's Day...

The second Sunday is May tends to be a bit hard for me. I lost my maker almost two decades ago, though sometimes, it feels like five minutes. Other times, I can’t remember her voice, and I reel from the fact that she’s now been out of my life almost as long as she was in it. Naturally, these are subjects that work their way into my writing--among many others that I circle and circle, for better or worse. Here are a few examples of “mom poems” from my poetry books. This first one is from my latest, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive.


a text message
from her coffin.
It said Glad
you're not here.

She's always doing
stuff like that.  She says
it's to help me
savor my remaining
days. But I know
it's because I'm
the only one left
who hasn't changed
his number.

IN THE MEN’S LOCKER ROOM AT THE YMCA (from Damnatio Memoriae, aka Damned Memory)

When the gray-haired man walks in
leading his daughter by the hand,
his daughter who looks to be three or four,
when he helps her undress for a shower,
both of them momentarily nude,
the father looking around to make sure
none of us are eyeing her too closely,
I look away. I am afraid
he would not understand my smile,
the pages of my memory turning back
to when I was her age, bathing
in the friendly shade of a woman
I knew by her breasts, her touch, her smile,
when I was small, never lonely,
and swollen with love for the world.

LANDMARKS (from Blue Collar Eulogies)

I bought a bag of all black socks
with my twenty-first birthday money,
thinking this would save me
from having to match them, sure,
but also the embarrassment
of wearing white ones to a funeral
like I did after my mother died—
same day my father
almost cut my left ear off
when I asked him to help me
remove the rusty latch of an earring
for years I thought was in style.
He couldn’t see straight,
didn’t even register my curse
when the scissors caught my lobe
until my brother stopped him.
Since I was already born
without a right ear,
for which I never blamed her
but now and again the ultrasound,
I’m grateful. My brother
tells me how he wore black jeans
to his rich girlfriend’s
sister’s wedding, how they laughed
so hard he had to spend
the next five years climbing
the economic ladder to Dewey Ballantine,
dinners under a ten-foot chandelier.
Today, at last, I throw out
that last pair, faded like old tires,
plus an outdated silk shirt
that reminds me of the dress
they buried my maker in. Sunflowers
permanently wrinkled by disco.
She looks lovely, said her old roommate,
blond with black eyebrows,
as she pulled me deep
into a midwestern bosom
perfumed by the Dollar General,
so deep I wanted to cry.
And would have, had I been
brave enough to wear the grief
my mother earned—she who daily
tamed my cowlicks with a wet comb,
even after the milk dried
and I, insufferably ignorant,
stopped believing she was God.

CARDBOARD URN (from Leaving Iowa)

After the funeral, your hair
and skin baked to ash,

your body brought back in a gray box
with a bag of soot inside,

box and bag on a pedestal by the table,
your brother came to see you.

He asked where you were,
and when I said By the table

he thought I said On the table
and he said Here?

peeking under the lid
of an empty drinking cup,

as though we had gone
to the local Kwik Stop

for gas and fountain drinks
then decided what the hell?

and used a cardboard Pepsi cup
for our mother’s urn.

He actually thought that,
and his eyes got wide

as he stood in the dining room,
unspeakably appalled,
staring at that cup

and mother, oh sweet jesus
how I wanted to laugh.

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