by Laurie Rosenblatt
SHE IS NOT DELIGHTED BY UNEXPECTED VISITS
FACILITY TOURS. DOCTORS. Financial forms. Lawyers. A nine-month litany of minor events sets her up for the move from Toledo to Boston.
I get to Mom’s before my brother Dan does. After a stiff hug at the door, she stalks back into the house her grimy heel flashing through the shockingly worn white sock. “Tú no te callas, te tiras por las ventana!” Since when does she speak Spanish? She’s pulled it off: another false recovery.
the incandescent bulb shines
nothing but false hope.
From a part of the brain being preternaturally elevated, but not diseased, the mind sometimes discovers not only unusual strength and acuteness, but certain talents it never exhibited before. Dr. Benjamin Rush 1812
She waits for me in the kitchen surrounded by cabinets covered with post-it notes: “Don’t let them lock you up!” “I’m not leaving my home!” In front of the dishwasher she poses. Baby-doll blue eyes rolled up toward the ceiling, she whispers moving her lips, praying under her breath for my slow death. First you wish you weren’t; then you’re relieved you are. Adopted.
Display both casket and sword with paper carps. Basho
Like singed hair, dendrites shrink back. Axons sputter like matches refusing fire. Line by line I struggle to recall that dementia drowns & defaces her.
The Mystery Shack, The Biggest Ball of String; our childhood expeditions
to local wonders die, fading into the eye’s blue hole.
The Blue Hole is noted for its clarity, vibrant blue hue, and enigmatic “bottomless” appearance…Floods and droughts have no effect on temperature or water level….The water contains lime, soda, magnesia, and iron, and because the Blue Hole is anoxic, it cannot naturally sustain fish…it was known to Ottawa Indians, the first historical record is in 1761…Karl VerSteeg, George Yunk 1932
(Once my favorite tourist attraction it is now off limits to the public.)
Toledo. Day two. Bird song before dawn. My bag holds no toothbrush, blush mascara or eye-shadow.
Bootless, I come to
the realm of constant shifting
where the stars release
reason from its own
weight, where thoughts lift away; drifts
of fog in deaf winds--
where is the meaning in this?
Light footfalls did not wake me.
Naked hangers grin in a snaggle-toothed row. In my University of Toledo T-shirt I stand gazing at the sequential bare bottoms of dresser drawers then go downstairs to make coffee filling the mug stenciled with a unicorn surrounded by faded pink & purple balloons that I bought in college.
[A]nd there was some old rags of mine lying in the cupboard and Andrew asked me if they was mine, I said yes but I did not care anything about them. She said “take them along & wipe your old backsides with them.” So you may know what a pleasant time I had of it, I am thankful it is all through with, she seemed to think the things were all hers. Mrs. Mary E. Anderson, Toledo, Ohio, 1861
“Strange people keep coming in & leaving things around.” Mom’s eyelids flicker with brown eye shadow (hers is blue). She’s got my sweater on, inside out. In view of her methods for cleaning toilets the possible fate of my toothbrush is something to think about.
I pull out little drawers
all of which are empty except for this
desperate parody of me:
a candle flutters in the mirror.
Toledo, day three, I hear myself say, “What’s this rolled up in a diaper?” This. A fork. Shelved right between Bleak House & Moby Dick. Alphabetically. She’s clearly dropped a few marbles.
The first toy marbles (clay) made in the U.S. were made in Ohio by S. C. Dyke in the early 1890’s….Some of the first U.S. mass-produced glass marbles were also made in Ohio, by James Harvey Leighton. Wikipedia 2013
Red opaque glass twists at the heart
of the clear glass sphere: a coil
of faces. One apes nursery rhymes,
another bruises a knee,
some old window cracked open admits
the clang of bells, burnt oven mitts night tears.
“Clean. Clean. Clean”. She dubs three filthy towels. When I point out the make-up stains she says, “I do not know who you are.” which I take to be spiteful. In this I am optimistic.
Gummed-thread & featherwork take our months & years.
Even one day shakes the etch-a-sketch swiping a few scenes clean. And yet that evening watching Law & Order, á propos of nothing, she raises her voice drowning out the lead juror just as he reads the verdict, “How old are you Danny?”
She then muses en passant that her father died at just Dan’s age. (Even when she invites him to visit it doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish to kill him).
The heart, a dull blade,
slides off the pear’s smooth skin, turns
on the grasping hand.
Holding the patent on a brand of layered quips she can still flay us, though it’s become hard to know when she means it.
Every August that pain-in-the-ass
raccoon raids my orchard, scarfs down
the whole crop of Danson plums. Pits & all.
Gunned down, she drops from the branches, stunned
but alive--her gutful of pits
it seems is a really good flack-jacket
she & I understand the point
of avid grievance collecting.
Her closing argument: “Life is a butcher shop. If I’m loony-tunes hang me by the feet from a doorframe.” That’s a good one. Comically picturesque. But then we do have a few slaughterhouses in the cow-full Midwest.
THE CROOKED CURB IS OFTEN A BRINK
I have put the quilt on the frame. I tied off a comfortable. The doctor was in and says it is a stage in the disease--a depression of the whole system--just take things easy. Laura Rhodes Lamson Toledo Ohio 1892
When the rooms drift & shuffle or the keepsakes move furtive & quick inside her, or to meet the changeable weather when the oak & hornbeam having turned aside become alien for days; she layers Pashmina shawls over Irish-knit sweaters, eats the orchard’s lumpy, worm-eaten fruit with undiminished appetite, seals herself to the sere land. She hopes to be wind-felled, struck down among apples, to be found crumpled on serrated leaves.
Each planet poised on her turning pole, with her ether of green and clouds of white and her waters that lie like fluid night…(end of entry) Julia Gorham Commonplace Book, Seville Ohio 1830
I tell you this, about someone else’s mother who had not wanted to end her days
in an overheated room on bed-sheets soaked with urine--a question of integrity.
But her two daughters loved her.
Away! Away! This the wide, wide sky--the fears, the fields that before us lie. Julia Gorham, Commonplace Book, Seville Ohio 1830, (The Song of the Stars)
This morning drives the river to smash bottles against half-submerged stumps. Water & gust carry away clothes left on the bank by abandoned women.
Deep river mud rarely sees the sky,
so knows the empty fame of light.
…sin, suffering, and our sorrows!--and when have not these three words told the story of our life?--That spirit which looks into space with eyes of longing, which says to earth…(end of entry) Julia Gorham, Commonplace Book, Seville Ohio 1830
Flecked by destruction the river glisters with good intentions.
Wearing mom’s Irish-knit cardigan that I’ve slipped on over my favorite wool sweater, I poke & startle her drawers with my unfamiliar hands. My fingers pry feeling for absent labels. I should know what is neutral & which are cherished things. But don’t.
It occurs to the guest
that within the sound of grey, the partial arc
on the far left implies
a clanging sea-swayed buoy:
the smoke is shorthand for error.
A thought comes over us sometimes in the career of pleasure the troublous exultation of our ambitious pursuits:--a thought comes over us like a cloud, that around us and about us death--shame--crime--despair, are busy at their work. Julia Gorham, Commonplace Book, Seville Ohio 1830 (Eugene Aram)
Because I have no daughter myself, I may still hope to drop unmolested among apple trees. Until then I keep turning week-old chicken into curried chicken salad.
MY MOTHER TRIES OUT COURAGE IN THE WRECKAGE WHERE NOW I RARELY MEET HER
“A woman with wickets in her head cannot be pharaoh of Toledo!” I tell myself she’s simply misheard what I’ve just said.
There is an oblivion of names and vocables, and a substitution of a word no ways related to them. Thus I knew a gentleman, afflicted with this disease, who in calling for a knife asked for a bushel of wheat. Dr. Benjamin Rush, 1812.
“A fit is falling apart on television,” she says following me from the “kiteline” where coffee brews down the “ballgame” to the bathroom. I turn to look at her thinking “sun-swiped, windtackled” dear god, please make it mythic, this whisking away.
I hold out stale cake in un-expectant fingers
for grey-capped sparrows.
The body is so fallible how can I expect it to house the soul if, when faced with the high-efficiency washer-dryer, her mouth opens as if on empty water into a silent O?
We notice we are creatures
when grief wounds thyme left
beneath the pillow.
The truth is sad & bloated. O for my dead father's hat, the old salt’s oil-skin he wears in the photograph, his face expectant, anticipates our laughter—I need it now to weather this shitsquall. But I am ungenerous, and so give nearly everything away.
Upon the lines of confusion/Upon the stones of emptiness/A great bitterness breaks open. Robert Smithson, c. 1960.
I meet as water with winter. I meet…
…the silence on the staircase, the silence in the next room, the silence high up under the ceiling…O Mother, oh you…You light a lamp, and that sound is already you…and you put it down slowly. Rilke
LAURIE ROSENBLATT is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Psycho-Oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. Toledo University Press published her chapbook Blue in 2012. In Case, her full-length book of poems came out from Pecan Grove Press in 2013. Gallery NAGA published Cloud 10, a collaboration with the painter Richard Raiselis, in 2014. Her poems have appeared in Salamander, Harvard Review, The Common, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, JAMA and others.