To Mother on Her Birthday

 

Returning to New York is like scraping away

All but the unclean nature of myself,

Those young years exposed – a downed live wire,

Bumping and jumping, zapping and scorching

Everything around me.

The day’s September gray threatens rain,

Restraining the flamboyancy of an approaching fall.

My brother and I drive in this melancholy gloom

To the skilled nursing and rehabilitation center,

That just isn’t skillful enough to rehabilitate those sealed up in a box,

Like my mother.

They used terms like wet brain syndrome, ARD, alcohol-related dementia,

Letting us know that only 25% usually require long-term institutional care.

It was that random toss she’d lost.

The nursing home plaque read “Founded in 1936.”

A year when the depression lingered on,

As did Roosevelt,

When record high temperatures killed thousands,

And tornadoes ravaged communities from Mississippi to Georgia.

Hitler and Mussolini made dangerous societies,

And blood hit the ground running.

My mother was born the following year,

Suckling the alcohol-laced milk of a despot mother,

Making her first memories weighty, acidic, and cold,

Like traffic slush flying up from the rubber.

Memories she freely fed to appease this disease.

This September marks a staggering 76th birthday.

So much for dying young and leaving a good looking corpse, huh, mom?

Her self-professed vindication for unchecked impulses,

Before the rampant unraveling and turning to stone.

This woman who wouldn’t be seen without makeup,

Police found tousled, a half-clad vagrant in one shoe,

Long abandoned car not far,

Wedged between trees, doors flung open like a flasher’s raincoat,

Showing all the goods, everything exposed.

When I read this in the intake records, I felt obsessive about that missing shoe.

Could I find it, should I rummage through those woods all these years later,

Place them both neatly at her bedside, become that daughter.

I shifted and stared at everything in the room, except her.

She was sealed up, and I was shut out.

There were nothing to grate on my fine edges,

Yet I still wanted to scream for her to loosen her grip.

I, too, did not want to remember,

That my heart once beat next to hers,

That chilled air was accepted as closeness,

Because to me it was closeness just the same.

My poems, mom, reflect and define our existence in time,

Restless rolling around in a hollowed-out log,

Echoing the familial mother/daughter sequences of events,

Nostalgic one moment, purposefully oblivious the next.

We spoke like strangers throughout my life,

Both of us equally embittered by disappointment,

If I could hear her voice now, as she lies listless,

Locked in this no world, would she greet me as

Daughter, my brother as son?

I implore God to breach the fissure,

With me hanging on to the train of his robes,

Sloshing around in her memory banks,

Trying to find something, anything

That feels of love for me.

We could retrace the networks that no longer exist,

God’s beautiful hands mending synapses.

I’d make an exigent plea for Him to take the Cobalt blue

Of a summer sky and place it back into her eyes.

But would she only look out the window at the rippling pines,

With their dangling sharp needles, hungry for death.

Angels in white come to wheel her down to the outside courtyard,

Her silence feels compounded by the elderly lining the hall,

They remind me of old paintings with eyes that seem to follow you,

Only their eyes are forlorn, heart-breaking, lost and alone.

Were they abandoned or also just remnants of what they abandoned,

Wept over images of genetic patterns handed down generation to generation,

A bladed brush slicing and fluttering the swell of life that colors us young.

In the cool outside air, my fingers, like wisps of hair, graze the warmth of her cheek.

It is soft, delicate, angelically foreign to my touch.

The three of us sit wordless, my hand and my brothers curled in hers,

And the rain finally arrives.

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