My mother’s mouth hangs open. Her blue eyes are as big as a baby’s. The dim New Jersey light bounces off of the half-full, man-made pond outside of the window and into her small, yellow room in the rehab center. There is something brown on her cheek—a dried clot of beef stew. I once saw a famous actor read a poem called, “Everything is Going to be Alright.” He had hair the color of sunset and he looked into the camera with warm eyes, and I felt that everything really was going to be alright. I want to write a poem like that. My poems are dark. They bring me no comfort.
My mother is looking at the television, which is on mute, and her small mouth is open. A line of spittle connects her lips. I miss her, though she’s here. She is my whole family, the only blood that loves me. When she is gone I will be like a balloon that’s been let go at a child’s birthday party, belonging to no one. I will float over the ocean until a curious seagull pops me with his beak. Like a small bomb, I’ll splatter on the water and sink.
It’s genetic, this thing, right? I’ll be like this, with eyes like windows to an empty room. All the furniture is gone and the family that lived there has moved far away. Yesterday, her wife told me she wishes she could leave her. She looked at me, needing comfort. I imagined slapping her hard across her face. But I understand. I see my mother and want to run. In the generic blue leather chair of the rehab center she looks deflated, as if she’d been stuck with a pin. But you wouldn’t believe how smart she used to be. She taught me to use language like a whip. To seduce a whole room with a joke. She could be mean as knives, too. She called me awful names, Selfish, Piece of Shit, Something Wrong With You, Fucking Disturbed, and those words eclipsed my real name like the moon until I didn’t know who or what I was. But God she was smart. She’d write her books, books that brought long-dead women back to life, while I played with the dog under her desk. Back then we were connected with a love as strong as a thick rope. She taught me love and she taught me fear. As a teen I’d cower behind the white desk in my little blue bedroom as she raged at me from the doorway. She filled the door frame, and as her fury grew, she filled the house, bursting through the roof with a scream, banging against the sky with her big head of brown curls.
But when it was good, it was good. My friends were jealous of the way we talked. Their mothers were nicer, but they only said How are your classes? and, Can I fix you girls some snacks? My mother told me wild stories from her research, stories about teenage girls that had visions and didn’t menstruate and could hold a kettle full of boiling water in their bare hands.
I look at her eyes. Empty. This giant. Some days she thinks I’m her mother. I want to scream at her, You’re the mother! but I don’t. She loves it, having me take care of her. She giggles when I hug her, leans on my shoulders as I pull up her diaper. Once while meditating I had a vision of myself with my long-dead dog, Tess. We walked out of a cave into blazing sunlight, into a valley between purple mountains. Tess trotted beside me, her black hair brushing my calves, and we breathed the air together, and I was at peace. I want to write a poem like that: my good dog, the mountains, the sweet air, the sun, my legs as light as air, my heart as open as the sea.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/70023venus2009