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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

Dwells elsewhere.  


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

In disappointment

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

of self-deception.

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,

After years.

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.


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