She could barely move her head the cancer climbed her spine reaching upward, clutching vertebrae reaching out, tendrils grasping tearing fragile organs. She would cry, but that would be an admission of defeat, a welcome to death.
I cried out for her, entreated our God for compassion that she might stand by her sons when they uttered the ancient words, by her daughter, adjusting the white lace veil, but he would not answer, drawn into catatonia, seeing severed limbs of children littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006
I have never visited the grave of my mother, either of them, which seems most odd primarily to me. The mother I never knew until it was too late to know her is buried in Charleston, West Virginia a place i intend to visit, grave site included in the coming months, to see where my mitochondrial DNA was planted and grew into the odd shape that greets me in the morning mirror. The mother i knew so well, who could always find ways to frustrate me when I was certain she exhausted every possibility is buried next to my sister, placed there by my brother who couldn’t quite get the funeral together, at least not the one she would have appreciated, with the near famous all pump, never the right circumstances so into the ground she went. I will visit there too, someday perhaps, but helical gravity will always pull me to the Mountain State.
You never know how the news will arrive you are just certain of its arrival. You know it on some level, even as the event is happening, but that doesn’t blunt the piercing tip of the blade that finds the soft spot in you and cuts deeply. You hoped for a miracle for her, for her son, her husband, for those who knew her gentle smile, warm compassion, cutting wit, when the situation demanded. She was a friend who would appear when needed most and slip away when the need began to dissipate. The news came today, the hole is fresh and you can only attempt to fill it with memories, knowing even as it seems again full as do so many others as you age, when you step into it you will plunge back into the well of loss and again struggled to find the sun hiding in a too often darkening sky.
She says every woman should own a little black dress, and during the time she tries them on I am thinking what she meant was every man should be married to and in love with a woman who wears a little black dress as well as she does, but I say It looks really nice on you, You should buy it, and I think, I will find events to which you can where it frequently, because it looks so good on you, and you in that little black dress make me look so good standing next to you, and men, although they will never admit it, are all so often about reflected glory.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
My mother used to say, about most anything, “Stop, you’ve had your fill.” It was something she did by rote, dictated I was certain then, by some timer buried deep within her that brought forth the phrase like the beep of an oven timer to indicate whenever she was baking was certain to be just slightly underdone. I didn’t listen to her, of course, just paid the lip service of which children are the acknowledge masters. I still hear her voice echoing the phase as i walk through the park each morning stopping to gaze at whatever new has come into bloom, the patterns of the clouds over the hills to the south, the conversation of the birds who only think i don’t understand, but i never get my fill of the beauty before me.