My Mother is Mortal

“What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someone,” asks Ellen Bass in her poem “If You Knew.” Did my anticipation of my father’s death change the way I behaved with him while he was still alive? I don’t know. Might it change my attitude toward and treatment of others, including annoying others, if I remembered, in every encounter, that they’re going to die?

Forget

You stood beside me while I crouched on the floor with a pair of bright red pumps, an oddity remembered only because of what happened next. There was the musty smell of sweat and old soap, the mold’s cool talcum in the shoe bed, the clatter of the bright room when we heard your aunt say to your mother-in-law: “You hurt me.”

The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water

The gravedigger catches my eyes: his grizzled gray stubble and worn cap, the curly hank of yellow-gray hair riding his neck. Even in his mechanic’s fatigues, he looks like a monk I know— with the same hair and glasses, the same lean jaw. “I went from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll to chastity, poverty, and obedience,” the monk likes to quip.

The Dead Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

I have no idea what poetry means to my father. In their modest apartment, he and my mother have a little shelf where they keep copies of my books. Along with my books, they have copies of Stephen Dunn’s Local Time and Donald Justice’s Selected Poems. Stephen and Don were my teachers. I don’t know if either of my parents have read any of their poems.

My Brother’s Keeper

Do you remember when we convinced you to streak around the house? Of course you do; you bring it up every time I introduce you to someone. I remember your slender ass glimpsed through a succession of windows, the white soles of your running feet, your pistoning arms, your screeches when you regained our front porch to discover we’d locked the door.

Who is Doing the Ironing?

I once heard a female academic talk about the necessity of “de-gendering the private sphere,” and the past year would certainly seem to confirm that, what with children (including my own) and baskets of dirty laundry creeping into the backgrounds of Zoom calls.

“Start with a woman watching a man catching his daughter”

“Start with a woman watching a man / catching his daughter.” But find you see with the eyes of the child: yourself, small as a gangly loaf of bread, gripped and flung and caught at the ribs by your father, whose boyish face pumps up and down in the summer yard where he, years ago, once played.

Things in Their Identity

My dad’s new house: it’s not new anymore, but it is still strange to me; I have no memories here. My mom’s house is twenty miles north, and six miles north of her is our last family home, exited with the order of a death: an inventory, the quick snatching of keepsakes, a staging, a sale.