The first draft of this poem owes its existence to false alarm. What I initially believed to be a heart attack was soon diagnosed as magnesium deficiency and corrected. What could not be corrected was my mother’s absence, whom I had lost the previous year. I was in deep mourning and contemplating my own mortality, as well as struggling with another bout of purposelessness–it used to come and go more often during those years. I was in-between treatments for aplastic anemia and not doing well, but was very aware of my propensity toward hypochondria, which my mother used to mention frequently during my childhood. I also mourned all the could have beens of our tumultuous relationship and her all too brief relationship with my children, who were still very young when she passed. There’s more to say, probably, but I’ll let the poem do its job. That’s what it’s for, I think. It speaks for me when I cannot say more.
Impending Heart Attack in the Doldrums on the Anniversary of Her Death
The neck, the shoulder, the arm. The jawbone. You picture it barren of flesh, cracking a permanent grin. Inflicting minuscule damage, given its laughable girth. Forget the one thousand men. This mandible of an ass can barely dispatch one drunken fly. Weak chin, your mother said once. You agreed. The brain names body parts, assigning pain where it must: falsely enough to kill you. You greet a ghost as a purveyor of meaning. What’s real is irrelevant, unless there’s more to it: the veil swept off—a flick of thought—to find some queasy truth within. Take love, for instance, or motherhood: both cradle baby death sucking its thumb. Good morning, hypochondria! the figment rolls her eyes, forgetting she was so averse to being helped, she died of it. What irony, to find yourself not nearly as different as you wished. You’ve waited half your life to die, how do you know she didn’t? Most people beg for solace with no one there. What did you do to stave off the untimely ‘fill in the blanks’? You watched her from afar: forlorn, derisive, crippled by guilt. I’ve lived now twice as long as Christ— that’s more than enough, she’d say and all you did was nod. Not even forty then, how tired you were, how weak and how ashamed to want exactly what she had. You’d shared a body once, you’d earned her laughter—why not her illness? Ah, the bliss to pull apart the vise squeezing your ribs, the foolish hunger to hear her call you hers again. Soon after, she went and you stayed on. You kept on staying. Now, that it’s closing in, the whopper meant to cart you far away from this god-awful Land of Pointless Aches, your mother’s ghost flying ahead, as she is wont to do, what’s left to say? No thank you, finally, no where have you been. Only the recognition that it’s time, that once it’s over, no one will recall your name. So few do hers. We are but shadows of lives fully unlived, shadows of poems ending none too soon.
First published in Clackamas Literary Review, Volume XXIV, 2020 (print only)