Her hand is cold and trembles into mine.
"But Mama, why were you away so long?"
she asks, her weakened body sprawled supine,
opaqueness shrouding eyes, the voice withdrawn
and shrunk to whispering, while hair spreads wild
to trace a fanlike shadow on the sheet.
Her mind is struggling: she is a child
in need of reassurance to defeat
some haunting thought of insecurity.
How can I camouflage my fears and then
extinguish hers? I fight uncertainty,
the answers failing when she speaks again:
"Please, Mama, dress me now and take me home.
Don't leave and make me stay here all alone."
"Don't leave and make me stay here all alone,"
I plead, in mounting apprehension, when
she leads me, small lips pouting, to the woes
of hospital, intensified by men
in bleached white smocks whose pleasure is to prick
my bantam body. I'm afraid she has
abandoned me and never will come back
to free me from this bed's encaging slats.
At last she reappears and lifts me in
consoling arms, the warmth imbuing me
like heady quaffs of wine as they begin
to glow inside, its salve renewing me.
It isn't just the feel of that embrace;
the sentiments are mirrored on her face.
The sentiments are mirrored on her face,
which glowers at me when she sees I've cut
the straps off of my Mary Janes to make
them look like flats (a shoe that seems somewhat
less baby-like). What's more, to underscore
how grown up I've become, and how cocksure,
a little hand slips in a little drawer
to clutch the female symbol for "mature."
Her lipstick hides away inside that fist
to color my lips cinnabar at school.
She spots me there, and punishment is swift:
a firm hand bursts my womanly balloon!
We laugh so hard at that throughout the years,
we cannot stop the deluge of our tears.
We cannot stop the deluge of our tears,
which stream in unison to drown the pain
she shares with me when first love disappears.
She knows it isn't helpful to explain
that aches recede, new ardors blooming when
the old succumb. She holds her daughter tight,
the fingers gently tilting back my chin
so she can pour her caring in my eyes
and start to heal the hurt with a caress.
She asks if I'd prefer a hamster for
a pet or crêpe de Chine for a new dress,
but consolation won't work anymore,
since entry to adulthood has begun.
Security and innocence have flown.
Security and innocence have flown,
as I have plunged into the surging force
of motherhood, to flounder in my own
confusion, amplified by instincts fierce
and overpowering. Priorities
have changed, with duties now intuitive:
teach truth, defend from life's iniquities,
give unconditioned love. My primitive
reaction is of fright, but then I see
those tiny fingers curling in my hand,
our symbiosis singing harmony,
and finally begin to understand.
The precious moments fade, and new ones form;
there's nothing that can stop the pendulum.
There's nothing that can stop the pendulum
from pacing time. The beat accelerates
my gait, enlivening the race to learn
while journeying. Each year accentuates
the distance that has separated us
and not permitted aging side by side.
That independence bears a price which must
be rendered. Mine has been to lose my guide.
I long to nestle, safe in the cocoon
of her secure embrace enfolding me;
so I return to that retreat, immune
from all afflictions while she's holding me.
I fly to her from worlds away, without
the thought that there could be a turnabout.
The thought that there could be a turnabout
has now turned into my reality,
her questions dissipating any doubts.
She asks me to refresh her memory,
to tell her who I am and why I came
to visit in her room. I swallow hard.
The sorrow wells and trickles; then I tame
its flow. Her eyes are focused on the yard
outside. A grapefruit tree, with golden balls
like swaying bells, elicits merriment.
She starts to speak, then suddenly recalls
my name and contemplates my face, content.
The thin lips curve; our glances intertwine;
her hand is cold and trembles into mine.
This poem first appeared in MUSED, Winter 2012 issue.