Poem to Read


Last night my mother asked me
if I liked her at all.

Eighty-eight blackbirds,
each for a year of her life, flew
into the sanctum of my ears.

Sixty seven bells, each
for a year of mine, rang
the saddest carillon I could imagine.

But, Mom, I said
you taught me how to knit—
scarves that any comic book hero
would envy, with needles
that clacked like your tongue.

You told me that lightning
was the burning tip of God’s cigar,
and thunder the barrels he rolled
down the steps of heaven.

Mom, you smelled of suntan lotion
when you took me to the beach
and I pretended you were my girlfriend,
saltier than any chunk of spruce gum
I cut from a sea-torn tree.

Do you like me at all? you asked.
Not as a mother but me?

And I wondered how I could divide you
from the woman who took me to movies
when I was four, like trying to cut the

wind in two, or separate you
from the person who told me
I would never be the man my father was.

Like is not for mothers, Mom.
For mothers is the long tangle
of endearment that runs like a jaguar
through the woods, that occasionally
turns and devours one of its own,
and keeps on striding, as if trying
to outpace its loving shadow.


“Last Night My Mother Asked.” Quiddity. Fall/Winter 2010-11.