V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




She may have scrawled the blooming of her girl
years in a secret diary, but for me
she began when I began. She poured into me
her disjointed histories, some purple
meandering seemingly pointless tales
seasoned with cliché, some didactic yarns
she found most useful for all occasions.    

Here is a fragment—in Kingfisher, OK.
she was driving some old flivver when she
was broadsided by another car. Her car,
half-wood, crumbled around her and left her
standing without a scratch in the middle
of Main, still gripping the steering wheel. 

Stories of bed bugs and mice, Guinea hens,
ducks, and banty roosters at a rented house
in Austin during the war and the day
I wandered off toward the dangerous river
while a posse of parents searched for me.

Her father, a railroad engineer, once had
a beetle fly in his ear and lost most
of his hearing when a doctor dug it out.

She was jealous of her sister, the baby
of the family, who got piano lessons.

Her mother was one-eighth Choctaw, a tribe
famous for their humor and song. My Granny
never spoke or smiled that I recall.

Shaking his cane, her deaf grandfather chased
Jehovah’s Witnesses from his porch, where they
had tried to play their wind-up gramophone.
I suppose it was her way of giving love,
droning these endless inscrutable tales,
sitting Buddha-like in menthol clouds of smoke.

She preferred the past, those days when
she found it easy to be the good mother.
Few of her narratives lived in the now—
daughters, good and wayward, handsome sons,
whose escapades she spun to sick obsession.  

I was too callow to know the sorrows
hidden in her stoic, plodding rituals.
Lacking a dénouement, her life never
reached tragedy or parable. Always
well put together, in her ending she
lost her husband and gave up on fashion. 
She spend her last days dishelved in front
of the nursing home TV she could barely see.

As she faded, she began to look more Indian.
The last time I saw her she had shrunken to
a little squaw woman who had abandoned
her worship of cigarettes and lipstick.

That last visit I brought her chocolate,
which she gobbled like a child. I watched,
and then ashamed of my hesitation,
said, Here, Mom, Here and reached out
and wiped clean my mother’s trembling chin.

She would have been pleased to know she had
taught me to love best the story. The teller,
I hope she knew, has her lonely glory.

© by Mark DeFoe


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