I Write My Mother a Poem

Sometimes I feel her easing further into her grave, resigned, as always, and I have to come to her rescue. Like now, when I have so much else to do. Not that

she’d want a poem. She would have been proud, of course, of all its mystery, involving her, but scared a little. Her eyes would have filled with tears. It always comes

to that, I don’t know why I bother. One gesture and she’s gone down a well of raw feeling, and I’m left alone again. I avert my eyes, to keep from scaring her.

On her dresser is one of those old glass bottles of Jergen’s Lotion with the black label, a little round bottle of Mum deodorant, a white plastic tray

with Avon necklaces and earrings, pennies, paper clips, and a large black coat button. I appear to be very interested in these objects, even interested in the sun

through the blinds. It falls across her face, and not, as she changes the bed. She would rather have clean sheets than my poem, but as long as I don’t bother her, she’s glad

to know I care. She’s talked my father into taking a drive later, stopping for an A & W root beer. She is dreaming of foam on the glass, the tray propped

on the car window. And trees, farmhouses, the expanse of the world as seen from inside the car. It is no use to try to get her out to watch airplanes

take off, or walk a trail, or hear this poem and offer anything more than “Isn’t that sweet!” Right now bombs are exploding in Kosovo, students

shot in Colorado, and my mother is wearing a root beer mustache. Her eyes are unfocused, everything’s root beer. I write root beer, root beer, to make her happy.

—from Breathing In, Breathing Out, Anhinga Press, 2002