NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
Fire lilies flame before us
under long lush oaks,
their shade, and seeping
glints of sun. And wisps
of breeze, midsummer.
But Mom, in her large-wheeled chair
At least my parents remain alive,
she says in earnest.
No, they’re gone, I tell her; been gone
For fifty years.
She seems surprised,
But I surmise that neither death
nor memory take hold for long
beneath the catatonic stare.
I think I’ll walk home; it’s not far,
she says, to break
The silence of her son.
No, not yet, I tell her; sweeping
into summer shadows
the autumnal truth
of long delusion.
The home of which speaks is
but a house, a mile
from this “home,” where she’ll reside
in long demise until the fail
of her frail body catches
the failing of her mind.
At the house that was a home
Hang pictures on the wall:
My son and daughter, now grown;
My sister and brother-in-law;
And a Sears portrait of my Mom,
and Dad—long gone.
My mom, in front,
with camera smile,
to Dad’s solemnity
and silent contemplation of departure.
The portrait sears with stares.
He’s gone, she said, in cold November
of ’78—gone without a word.
She never heard
his cries of quiet desperation
until he found love elsewhere.
I never knew there was something wrong,
she said, years later.
Stunned in disbelief, the volume rose
on aural memories, of her loud rage;
or dripping discontent
and poisoning contempt.
Hello?! she used to say,
Into the phone, its ringing having broken
Her spell of loneliness,
As I was sitting there.
And then: Oh…hi, she’d say
That it was just my father who had called.
Or one time, when he tried to hang
A mirror on the wall,
Her irritation rising
Because something was not right.
It’s off center, she said. It’s crooked.
Let me do it! she finally erupted,
And he, in rising rage, raised
The mirror in his hands, the two
Like children fighting
Over some such toy,
Blind to my observant stare,
And their own reflection.
I still love him, she said,
years later, awaiting
his return that never came,
and then at night she lay in lies
And he in lies to pacify.
I’ll try, he’d say,
when asked if he was coming home,
and I, in pain, knew otherwise
but could not cry.
Until he finally died.
Why, I asked my sister,
Why did he lie?
And she, in sad reveal recalled
Mom’s threats of suicide, if he did not return.
Then years turned into decades
And I, since married and divorced
Returned to play her son no longer.
You cannot live alone, I said, as her dementia spread.
I will not move, she said.
But if you fall, and are alone,
what then, of guilt and grief that will descend on me?
I care more, she said, about my life
than I do for yours.
In that freedom
Of bright truth
I came to see the source of bitter rage
In broken shards of memory.
And on those flaming flowers,
On that midsummer day,
And in her catatonic stare
All the years of rage, were neither here nor there.