by: Dorianne Laux
I passed through the narrow hills
of my mother's hips one cold morning
and never looked back, until now, clipping
her tough toenails, sitting on the bed's edge
combing out the tuft of hair at the crown
where it ratted up while she slept, her thumbs
locked into her fists, a gesture as old
as she is, her blanched knees fallen together
beneath a blue nightgown. The stroke
took whole pages of words, random years
torn from the calendar, the names of roses
leaning over her driveway: Cadenza,
Great Western, American Beauty. She can't
think, can't drink her morning tea, do her
crossword puzzle in ink. She's afraid
of everything, the sound of the front door
opening, light falling through the blinds—
pulls her legs up so the bright bars
won't touch her feet. I help her
with the buttons on her sweater. She looks
hard at me and says the word sleeve.
Exactly, I tell her and her face relaxes
for the first time in days. I lie down
next to her on the flowered sheets and tell her
a story about the day she was born, head
first into a hard world: the Great Depression,
shanties, Hoovervilles, railroads and unions.
I tell her about Amelia Earhart and she asks
Air? and points to the ceiling. Asks Heart?
and points to her chest. Yes, I say. I sing
Cole Porter songs. Brother, Can You Spare
a Dime? When I recite lines from Gone
with the Wind she sits up and says Potatoes!
and I say, Right again. I read her Sandburg,
some Frost, and she closes her eyes. I say yes,
yes, and tuck her in. It's summer. She's tired.
No one knows where she's been.
My mother used to read all the time. She read everything, even gave Stephen King a try once or twice. Up until a few years ago, she used to be a member of the book club that meets at my house every month. She always finished the month's book, even if she didn't like it.
My mother's eyesight started to fail several years ago due to macular degeneration. Then, her hearing became a problem, as well. Now, my mother doesn't read at all. Her memory isn't great. Sometimes, she doesn't know my kids when they're at her house.
This past Sunday, my sister gave my mother a set of headphones. Then, my sister started playing an audio book for her. Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. My mother has read this book before, but she spent all day listening to it. Laughed and leaned forward, as if she were watching it on television.
Saint Marty was so happy to see his mother reading again.