There was a time when I couldn’t
write a poem without my mother
showing up in it. There she would be,
yellow-appled hair, slapping
mayonnaise onto white bread and calling
it dinner, her head thrown back, laughing,
and we’d always be ready to hit
the road and drive some place
with a bigger sky and better men.
And so today, on her birthday, I have
to give her this poem, too,
even though, just yesterday, not enough
hours north, bombs exploded, and people
died; even though, in Oklahoma, there
are earthquakes, and Ella is teething,
and Joplin’s still not cleaned up, and I’m not sleeping;
even though, there’s Korea and Peru,
and my student, who says that his father,
back home in Iran, can tell if he’s hungry
just by looking at him over Skype.
This morning, teaching, I had to leave
the room because I knew if I didn’t
I would cry. All day I’ve had flashes:
Pamplona, a decade ago, red sashes:
just after dawn, drinking dark, sweet coffee,
I watch the running of the bulls,
and all I can think of are the people
running on September 11, how they
kept looking back over their shoulders,
that panicked motion of looking back
while desperately trying to move forward.
There are smaller terrors, too:
a friend who is getting divorced
says it feels like rats are in his chest
trying to claw their way out.
And so, right now, I want nothing more
than for my mother — the woman who was born
not all that many Cackalacky moons ago
and taught me everything about how to be in the world —
I want her to honk the horn, and I want
to wander out of my office, into the harsh
Brooklyn light. How’d you get here? I’ll say.
Just get in, she’ll say, and I’ll ride shotgun
until we reach the end of this galaxy
and enter into a softer, saner one.
But, of course, it can’t happen that way.
I have to settle for my hoarse voice
singing “Happy Birthday” on her voicemail
and trust that she will listen to it when she gets
in the car to drive home after a twelve-hour
night shift in the ER. I can only hope the Oklahoma sky
is good to her this morning; that it opens up,
fat and full; that it becomes the best sky she’s ever seen,
and that it makes her grateful for having been born.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 9, May 1, 2014.