In my defense I offer
my mother who is dead. Who gave us
hard dreams. Bad habits.
I give this sleight-of-hand and turnkey.
Nothing anyone would remember
me by. In a new house by myself,
it follows: stitched gossamer hem in flames
that trains me to husk.
I don’t understand your fear of darkness, or any failure
of light, clouds. Were you born like that?
This day and age, with so many other
options for predation,
are you my jury? Have you ever
pruned forsythia in the tender heat of spring?
Neither have I.
My mother did, until her sun-damaged hands bled.
In the prevailing culture of civil morality
and experience, I would only ask
her hands, this short wind, this plummeting and expiring sun:
be my judge.
Image: “Pruning shears open” by Ali Eminov, licensed under CC 2.0.
I wrote this poem shortly after moving into a new house in Media, PA. It was a late summer afternoon, and my neighbor’s husky (who looks very much like a wolf) was pacing back and forth on the other side of the fence bordering my yard. There was a particular music the wind made in the leaves, and it reminded me of the wind in the trees the day after my mom died. She passed away in Mexico in 2020 from melanoma, and since I couldn’t be there, I said goodbye to her in the woods where she took me hiking as a child.
The last time she visited the US, she pruned the Forsythia outside my old house and cut her hands on the sharp branches. She stripped away too much, leaving the bushes brutally skeletal, as if she knew she wouldn’t return to do this again. Her skin was already showing signs of cancer, but she minimized her condition and assured us she was getting the proper medical treatment.
This poem is about intergenerational suffering. My mother lived a hard life which included addiction, and had an exceptionally high tolerance for pain, especially her own. As a parent she could not always validate the physical or emotional pain her children experienced. Because parents are formative influences in the way children approach their own trauma, and/or because the wind, sun, and conditions were right, this felt like a poetic situation worth capturing.
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