children’s literature and other tender mercies

i.

 

When it was her time, I moved back home

Without hesitation or reservation,

As sometimes the bonds that are least explicit

Are the most inviolable and unbreakable.

Remarkably, the hospice “library”,

Which consisted of some vintage magazines

And ragged paperbacks crammed

Into a jerry-built bookcase of a sort,

Had a copy of Where The Lilies Bloom,

Which, in that long ago after the noble Ben Cartwright

Or Walt Disney himself

Had shoved us off to bed, she would sit

And read to myself and my younger brother (each of us,

Through the twin vessels of the musicality

Of our mother’s voice and the proximity of sleep,

Unduly susceptible to fictional magic)

A chapter per night as our just reward

For being good and well-behaved boys.

Now I read those same pages

Which, in my head I could still hear

As clearly as if I was still in footed pajamas,

I read to her, a chapter at a time,

And it did not escape me

That the inflection and cadences,

Albeit in a somewhat lower register,

Had not, despite the months and years

Rolling indifferently onward,

Varied at all.

 

ii.

 

Years ago, we’d had a dog;

After months of pouting and cajoling,

My dad took myself and both brothers

Up to a little farmhouse near the golf course

(Owned by the kindly, icy-fingered old doctor

Who put us through the paces of the annual school physical),

Where we selected one of the end-results of the liaison

Between a pure-bred and a purely-by-accident.

We brought her home, looking for all the world

Like a lollypop that had lived under the couch for several months.

She was a constant growing up (indeed, she outlived my father

By well over a decade), chasing cars, rolling in shit,

And sitting by my side as I gazed

Upward at the slow moving, anthropomorphic clouds

Through schools, hangovers, a fiancée or three

Until, nearly blind and gimpy from one too many a rendezvous

With Volvos and Vegas, the old girl wandered away one day

Not to be seen until animal control stumbled unto her,

By that time too far gone for anything but the needle.

Poor thing, my mother said often for months afterward,

I should have never let her go that long.

I’d asked once, perhaps more sharply than was my right,

Why she hadn’t taken her to the vet

(Not that I’d have made the trip, mind you),

But, through some combination of sadness, embarrassment and vexation,

She never saw fit to answer the question.

 

iii.

 

You cannot be serious, my older brother said,

His indignation palpable through the wires.

The years have buffeted him about—lost partnerships, failed marriages,

Various other disappointments, self-inflicted and otherwise,

And, rather than look inward, he has looked heavenward,

His God, as is so often the case with the newly converted,

Being of the Angry Man In The Sky variety.

He and I, except for our sole surviving parent,

Are the only ones left to carry on this debate,

Our younger brother carried to God only knows where

By life’s wind and wuthering, unseen for years

(Although my older sibling, in response to some unforgivable offense

That neither remembers, has not visited his mother in ages).

Who gives you the right to decide these things? Who elected you to play God?

It is the product of all the restraint I can muster to refrain from answering

Well, I’m here, just like I’ve always been, damnit, but the frayed network

Of the odd phone call and annual Christmas card

Is a great deal stronger than it appears, and I can simply say,

Barely loud enough for him to hear, I don’t know.  Not you.

 

 

iv.

 

She remains, a mixed blessing to be sure, remarkably lucid,

Quite aware of where she is and what the denouement shall be.

She will smile as I read to her from the dog-eared paperback

(Hopefully, its general dilapidation won’t mean missing pages toward the end),

Even saying Go on, keep reading on occasion, but more often

She appears irritated, vexed even, as if the notion of my assumption

Of the role of narrator is an affront,

Though to what she cannot articulate or make clear

In her own mind, but she says—clearly, calmly, resolutely—

When I finish the chapter

And make ready to leave, Well that’s enough for one night, anyway.

There’s plenty of time for more of that tomorrow.

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11 thoughts on “children’s literature and other tender mercies

  1. Not sure if this is fact or fiction, but it must be true and if so, you have a very full plate (sorry for the common metaphor!)one that challenges even the heartiest of souls.

    The lollipop under the couch image of an unkempt and forgotten “candy” dog is terrific.

    The portrayal of a brother, newly converted, who now knows the direction of mother’s soul, is also gut-wrenching (for me to think of).

  2. There are bits of truth here and there (Mom did read that book to us as children, and the dog stanza is pretty much true-to-life), but my mother is very much happy and healthy, and probably destined to outlive us all.

  3. It’s all fiction once the pen hits paper.

    Thank you for your kind words, I’m intrigued to poke about here, for a while.

  4. Ohh maaaannn… that’s some very good stuff there!! I was drawn by the story-poems!
    Sad to hear about your dog though… but she had her good times alright… So it’s all okay, I suppose..

    But everything was so well written!! PHEEWWW
    Bravo!!

  5. This was such a riveting poem to read – I love the stories, which you could not have told any better. The poor old dog. I loved the son reading to the mother, and the memories of her reading to him back in the days of footed pajamas. I definitely thought all of it was true, till I read the comments. Am glad your mom is still healthy.

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