My MOTHER’S DEATH
How many years were you sick
From so many illnesses, I lost count,
That made you, you
One by one
Until finally I gazed upon you
Lying in bed like a beached log
Stiff and hollow,
Your mouth wide open like a primitive totem?
Years ago I mourned the vibrant you,
So who do I mourn now, at your actual death,
Or do I mourn at all? Actually,
I am glad to see your suffering end,
Glad to see the indignities of illness stop.
I mourn what you went through when you were sick
And wish there would have been some way
To cut it short. Would it have been kind--
Would you have agreed--
To assisted suicide?
At what point would you have wanted it?
The moment when you lost the ability to read and understand?
Or when talking grew arduous?
How about when you lost control of your waste,
Creating a scene when we took you out In your wheelchair?
Certainly when the wheelchair became too tiring
And all you could do was lie in bed,
You would have said “enough.”
Or if not, perhaps the diet of puréed food--
The only kind you could keep down--
Could have been the final straw
To make you want to end it all?
Truly, we lost you long ago.
So, back to my question:
What should I do now? Stand, unmoved,
At the side of your tomb? No. No.
I must try to mourn
All your selves, healthy and sick,
And honor each one of them
With different types and degrees of sorrow.
There is so much justice in this.
Almost till the very end,
You lit up when you saw my face
And squeezed my hand and responded to my kiss.
Surely that person,
Sweet and loving in the face of death,
Deserves to be cherished most of all
And bathed in grief.
TURKS & CAICOS
Do not forget
The smell of honey
On the morning breeze,
The sound of palm fronds
Remind your feet
How heavenly walking can be
On soft sand, firmly packed,
That soothes as it holds you up.
Remember, most of all,
The bands of color so intense
You can scarcely believe them:
Cerulean sky touching
A horizon of marine-blue,
Then turquoise turning to aqua ripples,
And white foam glistening along the shore.
The airport will engulf you soon—
The crush of anxious bodies,
The closed tube and screaming engines
Of the plane.
Train your mind to come here
When a cold spring at home drags on
And the hard walls of buildings
Take heart; summer is coming,
Even to New York.
In June, the sun will shine
Almost like today on Turks & Caicos.
A rainbow of blooms will unfurl as you walk,
And clover will caress the air
With the fleeting scent
A dazzling sight:
glowing gingko leaves
spread like saffron snow
under trees in Bronxville.
Bending over, I see
each leaf is remarkable.
Its scalloped edge and veins, like rays
of the rising sun, say “Asia,” look ancient.
I reach for my phone.
All-knowing Wikipedia says the gingko
is native to China, has been found in fossils
dating back 270 million years—is a fossil.
Europeans first saw it in a Japanese temple garden.
Eastern religions revere the tree as a symbol
of longevity and peace.
When the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, six gingkos
growing 1-2 kilometers from the site
were among the few living things
to survive. They’re still there.
The gingko’s other name is
Then I remember.
A woman I know called the gingko
“the vomit tree.” I get what she meant.
One fall, in a seedy section of Greenwich Village,
I stepped in some gingko crud.
For the longest time after that,
my sneakers smelled like a sick wino
on Sunday morning.
Back to the phone.
The sage Wikepedia confirms
neither I nor the woman are crazy. It says,
the female gingko produces fruit in late autumn
that stinks when left on the ground:
“The rotting fruit emits an odor that smells
That’s one way to get men to notice you.
If I owned a house, I’d plant this tree
on either side of the front door. I predict
the gingko will survive global warming.
I’m a miracle.
I was a seed of hope
when men devised the alphabet.
Centuries passed, and my spine
grew and grew, until my furry top
Only two other plants, and God,
Here’s one secret of my longevity:
that wind sideways, into the roots
of other trees. Most of the time,
we hold each other steady.
Fire, fatal to others,
After flames lick my bark,
it grows. The heat frees my seeds
from the cones I produce
by the hundreds. The seeds grow best
in soil cleared of green, fertilized
My other secret is the tannin I make—
for invading bugs and fungi.
After all these years, I’m amazed
they keep trying to eat me.
My only enemies
are lightning bolts, wet snow,
high wind. Too much weight
on my muscled boughs
tips me. That’s when my roots rip
out of the earth, and I crash—
but it doesn’t happen often.
Sometimes I keep growing
I am glad to see you, tourist,
but you stare like all the others
who’ve come by for millenia.
Do I make you feel
small and stupid? Do you wish
you were me?