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.