Portrait of My Mother
Fragments of memory, sparks, contain
my nights. And suddenly my mind is
laid open: the image of rounded
hips, the box of chocolate, the
Belgian sweets. The story of my
infancy, my nose running in the crib.
A portrait of her as a young woman, neglected
like an old memory, painful, exposed,
lying on the bed to mock me.
And the confusions of her decaying mind:
the French waltz, the loss of
her father, the deceit of my childhood
caretakers. I grasp
her photograph, retreat into
the past, imprison my tears:
hear the fractured words that escape
her mouth, observe the unnatural ruddiness
of her cheeks. Here is
my entire life, here is hers.
The Fifth Leaf
To My Mother
I was just a child when my father sent me
into the alfalfa field, running
barefoot on the cracked earth,
excited at the prospect of finding him
a special five-leafed specimen.
To this day I remember:
a crisp October in a translucent fall,
bees buzzing in
soft lumps of purple honey.
I moved past him †“ but
time defeated me; and so
standing on the low wall
in the shadow of the graveyard,
I call to him just as I did then:
Father; eternity; sweet alfalfa.
I was a child and my foot was bleeding, but
in my hand I held the botanical wonder: a five-leafed plant
and sorrow that knows no consolation.
Now, and Without Her
After the death of my mother he
comes to me in the darkness of the night.
For weeks he does not
cease, returning in my dreams,
bending over me, sweating and panting:
Go there, buy, and make haste.
The very best protective vest
awaits you in the marketplace of promises.
Remove those ridiculous cargo
pants, change quickly into
the childish clothes.
You are alone now,
she is no longer here
to screen you from the burnished
sharpness of my scythe. So
why do you daydream, tarry
and linger? Get up, get yourself together and take
a deep breath. And come to me now,
and face me, straight on and without her.
In the last light before sunset
in the heavy dark shadow of a citrus grove,
I frighten a covey
of rock partridges, frolicking
in the sand. Like the years they
scatter without warning: all at once,
quickly, not stopping for a breath. And their calls
of alarm are just like mine:
That way, that way, that way. And afterwards,
it is as if they never were, only
a single trembling feather remains,
a vestige of the yearning that is
all that is left of me, and of them.