“Mother’s Day” 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.

Dorianne Laux, “Mother’s Day” from The Book of Men. (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2011) Copyright © 2011 by Dorianne Laux.

***

“Night and Day” written by Cole Porter and performed above by Ella Fitzgerald.

 

“In Spite of Everything, the Stars” by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor’s expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler’s plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that’s why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That’s why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

Edward Hirsch

 

“Stars Fell on Alabama” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong