Mother

You lying

On your back

On a cheap foam

Mattress, covered with

A ripped, loosely woven, blue cotton sheet.

Hard large pillows not right for your ancient curved spine.

“Broken hip”

They keep saying,

But really

The ghostly osteoporotic leg bone,

Far below your hip,

Snapped in half,

When you fell from your bed,

Your deaf husband calling for

You to come down and set the kitchen table.

 

He could not hear you,

In your ninety-first-year, in your soft

Seventy nine pound bird voice, yelling —

I am coming, coming, coming, COMING

As you scrambled to get off your bed during an afternoon nap

In a half-awake daze.

 

For one side of a century

You clung to a great happiness with our father, but for

Almost a decade now,

You have succumbed

Been subsumed in the

The grooves of a long tradition

Of wife as lover and servant.

 

It’s hard to know whether to be angry or sad,

To rage or cry, we fluctuate

My brother and I,

Between extremes,

Because, no doubt about it,

As our father tells it,

Life has given him the

Raw end of the deal

Pretty much for eighty years now.

 

But we are still so pissed, so incredibly pissed, he

So often calls for this woman,

This old old woman

And how when he does

He expects her to appear before him

Instantaneously,

As if she could fly down the stairs

Around the doorways

Fast as a Hummingbird.

 

“I don’t like being

Here, alone, at night”

My 91-year-old mother tells me,

From her bed, in this godforsaken place.

And who would?

Especially someone who’s never ever

Never

Never

Ever

In her whole life, ever,

Been alone.

First with extended family, parents and siblings, aunts and uncles,

Then nuclear, husband and two quick-witted penetrating

Unwieldy children of the 1960s.

After we left, decades of woven relations,

Pared away, finally, to just her and her husband.

But never alone.

 

My mother tells me,

“The woman who was here yesterday…”

 

A new caregiver we’ve hired to keep her

Company, to keep her from dragging herself

From her bed

Pulling her wheelchair behind her

Out into the hallway for one of one thousand

Possible reasons that might at any moment

Enter her post-surgically demented mind,

And breaking another bone –

 

“She has two puppies!”

 

Who, Susan?

Lucky Susan, I say,

And longingly imagine, just for a moment, soft small fluffy canine bodies

Tiny snouts, padded doggie-scented feet,

Pink tongues, small woofs, human cheek to thick furred bellies.

 

The television

Behind the curtain brings me back.

Someone has put on the television for the woman sharing my mother’s room.

Even though she is deaf.

 

What is it about the television in these places?

 

Paralyzed, unable to speak,

My mother’s roommate,

Sits in a chair in a black sequined pantsuit

Like some never before seen

Black glittering bird from the rain forest,

Or a startled Starling flying by outside

Mesmerized by the trees and clouds in the glass.

 

Her two daughters have been to visit each day

I have been here.

There is a heavily drawn circle on the calendar next to her chair,

She is leaving on the 21st of January and they

Have big plans for this departure.

 

This woman who has been the recipient of a tragic gift,

Something, which dances around us all, an unexpected

Renegade blood clot, burst blood vessel,

Groans and moans regularly, not from pain, but from

A fundamental need to communicate.

I have responded to her requests for help

More than once,

 

Knowing

It could be me

It could be me

It could be me

It will be me

One day,

It will be.

 

Thinking of a photograph taken thirty years ago

I recently discovered, after my uncle died,

He and my mother are my age,

Tending to my grandmother,

An old woman,

As my mother is now.

 

It goes so fast

So fast

So fast

Fast

Fast

Fast.

 

I have no children, no daughters or sons.

It is not hard to imagine myself into some futuristic institution

Alone in the world.

So to my lucky old mother with so much love in her life, I say,

Life is hard, Mom, there are

Times when we have to muster

All our courage

And resolve,

And surely, for you, this time is now.

 

Please please please try not to worry, I say, addressing my mother’s maddening

Predilection for anxiety-based perseverance.

Digging into my Jew-Buddhist

Attempt at reassurance.

All the while thinking,

When it is my turn,

My turn

My turn

My turn

I will

Take my gun out of my closet, carefully load the copper bullets,

Walk out into the marshland behind my house, and pull the trigger.

 

An administrator in her outrageous stiletto heels

Clicks down the hallway,

The dark-skinned Caribbean

Women who wipe my mother’s ass

Tread quietly respectful

Underpaid and anguishing over siblings, cousins,

Friends and parents,

Buried beneath the rubble in a massive earthquake,

Yesterday,

In Haiti.

 

© Susan Gesmer, Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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