|A Little Requiem
Lovely at 83, though death had married her,
Carriage, face, skin,
Each vein that snaked her hands,
Each rope of flesh,
Mammary to chin.
The eyes, small, glittered with a faint
Tug of life, as if to protest
What claimed her,
And when she died a coffin framed her.
She was old in almost every fashion.
And she nourished the soil
From which her soul would some quiet
Unanticipated hour leap.
There were flowers in her garden
The old man with her
Had dug and planted.
In careful precision, blossoms sprung
From every vase, secure and not abandoned.
She was old in a girlish fashion.
The eyes were clear,
And her soul peered out
As if there was something she still
Hadn’t seen in 83 years.
The fear I saw in them was possibly imagined,
Possibly my death.
She pursed her lips and drew
A fearful kiss yet still her breath.
Ah yes, she was old,
Fragile as glass figurines, or porcelain swans
Etched on an antique vase.
She was fragile on a fragile
Old man’s arm,
And she was far too old to harm me further.
I would survive, yes, I would survive
To bury her.
I hoped her death was easy, loving her.
My mother had nearly learned, old,
An old woman struggling into death, to kiss her son.
And yet the thin line of lips
I coveted, a nuisance virile humming bird
Sipping an exotic
It was that same reticence
That kept her steady toward her favorite wing-back chair.
And, I often thought, she’d end, there.
Her face, old as 83, was lined
But weathered, under a film of glass.
Her voice was clear but faint, an edge
Of her battle each syllable
She endured to speak, for she kept up
Even when the speaking was a trial,
And though the lips were thin,
It was still a smile.
I had loved her despite her, old then
At seventy years,
And another ten had brought us no closer,
Nor in time we touched,
But there was less effort in the loving, still unsaid.
And I finally knew that she would finally die,
And I lived to see her know it just
As well, and I lived to see her
She was an orchid, 83,
Confined in a white white vase.
She was blossom after blossom her veined hands
Had fussed, and her hair was pollen,
Lilies, asters, white and fragrant even as she fought her way
And her breath was golden, silver,
And her difficult smile was difficult to give,
But nothing hard was left.
She was 83 when I last knew her,
And she was still Joyce,
And proud, even vain.
And nothing of great consequence
Had left an etching on her bearing and her brain,
Nothing we could guess,
The three who survived past her
Toward the world. And she had been Joyce to her friends
As they too died, and one of the girls.
Nothing can make me know at 83
I’ll see so little,
Nor endure my plight so totally alone.
Her artifice contrived to make her free of pain,
To our cold distant eyes.
Yet guess we will not know it half as blind.
But cannot judge till we are 83.
The old man knows, he alone,
Our Father, carved from the same chill tree.
She died as any might, I’d say,
Devoid of wisdom.
Some thoughts had touched her in her life,
But she had missed them.
She held five of us together
With a stubborn obedience.
She was a dazzling beauty as a lass, was fast
And known to dance.
Harmony was all to her country man,
Who had grown up hard
And wanted to carve a name in his barren life.
She let him carve it in his wife.
She was the soul of love.
It fades from the latter photographs.
But the first?
The lines that hardened in her face are epitaphs.
He governed, great and small,
Each nuance of their lives,
No firm directions,
Only the implicit threat that, sanctioned, thrives.
Early on were twin beds,
Skirmishes with tenderness held to a minimum.
We looked on without comprehension,
Then went our ways.
The ways they were are suspect,
Barren as the soil from which
He sprung. There is
An awesome silence in our voice and tongue.
Love is a word I did not know
Till I was 23.
I never saw my parents kiss. Only at the last
At her mortality. At last the ache was his.
There was so much of that man
I did not see her.
I cannot remember her voice.
Some fierceness bade me love him, not her choice.
He speaks now even in his weakness.
I cannot hear her name.
She whispers something lewd, perhaps I love you.
I hear, “David, I’m cold? It’s his rude game.”
Tomorrow I sleep. For now she’s dead,
Yet always dead, I saw the corpse.
Dead far past and rotting.
Stiff as the heartache the mother I had gotten.
Beauty has rested in her smile.
I saw the photograph.
In just ten years the lovely maid was plain.
No one had ever tried to make her laugh.
Yet toward the end she laughed,
So quiet one still could bear it,
So real that one could fear it,
So earnest even faith could hear it.
And made me laugh at times
At stories of my childhood.
One knew for certain that kind woman was my mother.
And knew her kind and not my father.
But the old man too had mellowed.
Walked her to their evenings out for dinner.
Shopped and swept and dusted
Like a sinner.
They grew together, each resigned
To his designated chair, first
The crossword, then the kiss.
Then off to separate beds, domestic bliss.
Toward the end a maiden
Reappeared to warm an old maid’s eyes,
And a beauty so tentative
It almost seemed afraid to show its size.
And she glowed quiet,
Fragile, reflective as her capacity would warrant,
And we were moved to tears
By the current.
And when she walked, her arm in His,
There was grace that thwarted
Any clumsy gait. And they went out that way
Together and came back late.
And they ceased to know the time,
And they ceased to be afraid,
And they ceased to bicker over 60 married years,
And she ceased to feel betrayed.
And they helped each other,
Aging newlyweds, and no one could fault them
In any fashion,
And it went to their heads.
And they grew closer, it seems,
Impossible to believe,
And those last few years were a gift to us
For which I will trade my childhood
And any lame and sullen excuse
To further grieve.
Mother became a maiden and my doddering
Father the able knight.
And she, they both died lovely
In my sad sight.
It was not wisdom they acquired with years.
And yet I’d use it to allay my tears.
The last summer of her life was spent
In a wing-back chair, bent
To a scented romance she could scarcely hold.
They ate at every restaurant food was sold,
But mostly on recommendation.
They ate and ate with dignity and resignation.
He guided her to the steps and saw her up
As she had seen her son tremble a cup
To his lips. It had been her embarrassment,
And she, the strength, her torment
To be disabled such that she couldn’t sew
Or cook, but merely live on, know-
ing that there was one direction left,
As it was with all, young, old, bereft
Of infirmity or doddering into age.
At times she coiled inward with a rage
That shocked her, and she prayed for strength,
But there was little of that. At length
She just held on and waited and read
Her romance wafting a scent of well-bred
Sexuality that suited her sensibility.
There was simply no other possibility.
It even hurt to hold the phone, an act
That everyone took for granted. The fact
Was she was tired, even of looking pretty.
And then she hated her weekly therapy
And sought for excuses to pass it over,
Knowing full well where weakness drove her,
Down toward greater weakness and a yawn,
A mouth that beckoned to us all, beyond
Remedy, barter, payment but our own sure death,
And she would sigh and hold her breath
And wish that something terrible even
Would occur to mask the pain
That gnawed persistent in her body, brain,
Some incident filled with horror, some insane
Respite from her inward coiling soul,
And then, suddenly, was whole.
She even laughed a bit and made the old man laugh,
Over a simple thing, perhaps a photograph,
And they were talking again, sharing memories,
And they were not all sad, and she tried to please,
And she praised him once or twice
To see where that would go, and she was nice
Again and thanked him for his most meager attentions,
And for clean linen and carpets and other intentions
That he filled his days with, tired of television
And flipping channels as if it were his mission
To be dull and in despair.
And at last, at long last, she ceased to care
About the face that greeted every guest
On this green spinning earth.
Is our own history. She was laid to sleep
Momentarily. Somewhere she waits a time
Before she can return. Lazy or sublime,
Her soul is finished. And yet the steam
To come back in again, whether in my fond dream
Or my psychosis? Small consolation to the grieving,
Metempsychosis. And yet I’d rather have believing
Than a mother’s mouth of dust. She’s resting.
She’s resting now, I trust.