My mother in a red hat
She is sitting serenely on a sofa
in the salon of a friend’s motor yacht
wearing her pea coat and a rolled brim cotton hat
looking into the camera
somewhere between Ketchikan and bemusement.
A guested passenger, she travels widowed
across the water my father always feared.
This voyage, a few years after his sudden death,
even as her cancer was eating her lung,
was simply another trip on her life’s late itinerary.
What was she thinking when that photo
caught her trademark crooked smile?
Had she renounced her trepidations,
bid a grand slam now with nothing left to lose,
after a life spent following the same recipes?
I had seen that look before
when she shared a secret
said everything without uttering a word
or when she confided
she wanted balloons released at her funeral
which led me to ask if the metastasis
had short-circuited her brain
and then that smile again.
Even when she endured radiation therapy
head clapt in a stereostatic frame,
there was that enigmatic Mona Lisa in a Polaroid.
So when the yacht anchored off some unnamed rivulet
that emptied into a cove where grizzlies
come to feast on spawning salmon,
the bunch of seventy-year olds piled into the Zodiac
and the captain cranked the throttle wide open
plowing the raft ahead
while my mother stood in the bucking prow
gripping the bowline like a rodeo rider,
her hat blown back.