An Elegy for Mother, or, an Attempted Remembrance of the Great Storm
We say she lives on, untrue, in recollection
like the dragon having hungered for more than
kinsfolk — those long gone, flea-bitten, and burrow-rid
by toxic smoke too hazy sick for honest reflection.
So she lives on then, in every heart still thumping since,
however ink-slung and salt-watered, hot-rinse
dilute is what I mean by this. Remember her then,
like a foam-shored symphony, that blue drizzle
tip-toe to hopscotch timpani, and that old history
consistently repeating to the beat of blackberry dye, for
she has barely lived and barely died: her, town;
she has carried on for those of us whom, left to drown,
she has welcomed like livid little sugar ants, and
she has dragged in by torrent a sweeter chance.
Some hound dog yowls for the summer
or for water, or we have nothing left to say
aloud. Of course we have been left to crabapple graves,
seed to sprout to fallen crabapples, upon this
unfamiliar terrain. Or should I say
familiar, forgotten; grandfather’s garden and
fixing my boy’s collar — taller, leaner, and green
still clings to trouser bottoms. This or the dog, say
the dog, is a reminder. Un, deux, count the bellows
as decades quench invisible worms to feast on apples
or to drown, or they might have forgotten what to say
When night goes down as all upward things,
As it had to give Newton his welted crown
When mother sun neglected him, or so they say.
Trois, quatre, anyway — fantastic, you’re learning!
And you learned by following father and his
heavy feet, with your eyes. We cannot say
where, we cannot say why. We trust him
like cinq, six, like sinking ships and the dog poison
at our feet. Like mother and son too doubtful to say
they will obey a dog who yowls.
Sept, like set, like ‘stay.’
- Fresher in your memory, but you still have it confused. Maybe they aren’t meant to be separated from one another — because at the end of the day, it’s the same fight, the same noble cause, and you looking on from the same empty place as before.
- Because “I’m here for my son,” sounds no different now than it did all those years ago, when even you could place your trust in blood and dimples and broad shoulders. The exception: I’m here for my son; is my wife with him? Now remember tear heavy reluctance, him willing away telltale signs in the way he never would for his mother.
- He’s scrawny for seven. Reel him in by the shoulder and tell him he’s lucky because his father will always be there for him. Some fathers die for their sons. Your father died for you. Your son died for your good name, and that isn’t fair.
- So you shake your head, thumbing red the corner of your eye. There isn’t anything to do — an answer to “What next” gone uncommitted out of fear. But if there is, you contest to yourself, it wouldn’t be enough. Love doesn’t bring back the dead. It doesn’t even bring back the past without alloying it; what’s left to be trusted?
- Your stomach lurching, sour at the back of your throat. Your hands had clamped down around your son’s fingers like jaws and your wife, grieving mother now, had swept limpened curls from his ruddy forehead. He’s scrawny for nineteen. You both must have thought your efforts helpful at the time, but it never could have been enough.
- So you walked home side by side, wordless; when you had reached out, she had flinched away. So you’ve settled into your wordlessness.
- Your daughter had called to say she’s still catching up with schoolwork, that Junior’s been making dinner and he’s actually quite good at cooking. Did you know that? We joke about it, she laughed and choked on something else. We say he should talk to Julio about a job.
- The rest goes unsaid. You haven’t worked up the nerve to ask, “Should I come home?” You might not like the answer.