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. 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.
By phoebe sparrow wagner (1990?)