My poor mother is suffering from dementia at 87 and it is very sad and difficult to watch her decline. I will write more if I can at some later time about it but for now I want just to post a poem I wrote for her years ago and then rewrote completely recently.
Over the years we have had some troubled times. Because my father disowned me for some thirty-five years, she had to make a choice between him and me, essentially, and the one she made was obvious. I was out of the house by then and I am not sure it ever really occurred to her to make any other choice, but who knows? I do not. In any event, I bear her no bad feelings for this, I do not think. Though had I been “her son” with schizophrenia i believe the outcome and her choices might well have been very different, as they always were when it came to my brother.
But that is water under the bridge. The choice was made and I was sacrificed. That said, perhaps it is a good thing, I dunno. If she had given up her life for me, I might never have developed any independence at all, or written the poems and books I have. I might never have discovered my art abilities. Who knows? No one knows, of course, what their “alternate futures” might have held. We can only work with what we have and the cards we are dealt. We can’t make others choose on our behalf. Much as we might wish them to.
I never wanted my mother to give up her life for me. I felt guilty enough, just for being the way I was. The worst thing in the world would have been for her to make any sacrifice for me at all. For anyone to have done so would have been damaging to me. So I am glad that everyone went on their way, because otherwise I would have had to kill myself in apology.
I could say much more but I am sleepy so without further fanfare, the poem:
PHONE CALL TO MY MOTHER AT SIXTY
I have not thought of you all day.
A March wind rattles the wires,
wishing you a belated happy birthday.
You are sixty, my grandfather ninety,
my younger sister thirty,
but if there is significance in that,
a syzygy, some conjunction in the heavens
I have yet to figure it out.
Your husband answers, my father,
aligned against me north-north,
between us implacable silence.
So we sidestep confidences,
suspecting he is listening in
until in the distance the line clicks
like a playing card in the spokes.
But even so, how carefully we speak,
expelling words of fragile allegiance
each of us pretending not to know
what the other is thinking.
Suddenly you confide, you feel old:
the baby is thirty, you don’t like
your new job, you miss teaching,
the exuberant children, their bright
and lazy charm. There is so much to do,
so little time. Before it is too late
you want to captain a boat to the Azores,
learn cabinet-making — you have the tools,
a lathe, a power saw, inherited from your deaf father
who never heard you speak
but built you a fabulous dollhouse
and taught you, at ten, to sink the eight ball.
Could I ever confide that I, too, feel old? At thirty-five
you had a husband, four children,
a career in the wings. Older by a decade, I rent
a single room and have no prospects
beyond the next day’s waking.
Instead I carefully quote Joseph Campbell’s
advice: follow your bliss.
And I remind you Aquarians always step
to a different drum’s thunder.
You like these clichés,
and laugh, repeating them, then you say
with a sudden spontaneous sincerity
that moves me how good it is to talk with me.
I think of all the times we have not spoken,
how at sixty it would be nice
to have a daughter to talk with
instead of friends wakened in the night,
reaching over husbands or wives,
to answer the phone, “Hello? Hello?”
their wary voices expecting
death or disaster.
You are tired, you say now,
you have an early appointment.
We promise each other a date for lunch.
But I will not call for a long time.
Or perhaps I will call the next day.
Before you hang up, you let slip
it’s your wedding anniversary, one
marked by some mundane substance —
stone, carbon, foil, rope.
Should I congratulate you, I wonder,
or console you? Finally, we say good-bye.
Across the wires I think I hear
your voice crack, but it could be the wind
or a bad connection.