Mother before she was Mother could
drink the Berkeley boys under the table or
slam that tennis ball to the forehead
bull's-eye and later primly take her seat
in the cello section, then give it all up
for that peach cannery job
so the future Father could finish
school and fight in New Guinea, a month
after Pearl Harbor they marry, knowing
he may never come back.
gave her body to cast your spirit
into blood and then pushed you
out and away, you never stopped falling
away, after fifty years Mother of Secrets
revealed her sister is really her cousin,
Good-Breeding Mother forbade "Mom,"
Chanel No. 5 Mother stunned your
wide-eyed little boy self with her
satined beauty and blue gems
for small-talk parties she loathed.
Could Army Mother have expected war
after war after war? She's surrendered
control to the Pentagon, her sole command
is four little soldiers who need
discipline (children in fine
formation count toward promotion),
so – along with butt-wiping
night-night kissing teaching all four
to read at three to polish Army brass
spit-shine uniform shoes
make the military bed taut as a trampoline
to rebound that quarter
or it's ripped apart for another start –
Belting Mother strikes out in fury, calls in
the heavy artillery when the troops
mutiny, and they do, ferociously.
Purple Heart Mother's lost her Silver Star man
to his new family -- Good Morning Vietnam! --
of presumably more satisfactory children
already awaiting his return, he drives
away in serene disregard
in the Cadillac she always despised
-- no class, inelegant, she would say,
preferring Plymouths, don't flaunt
what you have -- so Stoic Mother
resurrects her cello
for the Saturday morning quintet
grows rhubarb reads to the blind
names the symphony in her will deciphers
the stock market with a wizard's aplomb
writes atonement checks mourns her
lost son, her second, her favorite,
he's the one most like me, the one
most like her left her world via a 30-30
in an inelegant motel room, yet she refused
a service, sent your childhood buddy’s
weighty ashes priority mail
to perch raven-like on your bookshelf.
Space Mother of the two-thousand-mile
comfort zone: why fly to you when it's so easy
to call and your weather is so hot?
You get the picture
after thirteen years.
You could fly to her,
oh but my house is so small,
I guess you could stay in a motel,
and you wonder was it also she
who taught you to grow
that shell of ambivalence?
Each call's a trial by Mother-Fire,
an uncontrolled burn only Mother the Arsonist
can kindle from all the undergrowth gone wild,
ambivalence and resentment crackle through
and between lines of regret. Remote Mother's
in full retreat far out on that peninsula
at the foot of Olympus, worries when
you haven’t called in three weeks – you’re
just like your father! – yet you must
speculate what your
Only Mother looks like now,
satin and jewels and Chanel
is the prevailing image, but she must
remember you for she has no use
for your pictures from birth to adult
(the ones not lost to fire, flood and bombs):
Here, I thought you might want these,
I have no room, my house is so small,
let's just talk on the phone.
And in her small, faraway cottage
you’ve never seen except in pictures,
vines curling over a trellis hiding
a closed door, does she wonder at times
what happened to her plans? Did she have
plans? Another secret.
she sits on the edge
of her single bed,
she clutches the phone
to her failing ear, and she says,
Do you remember
when I sent you that poem,
When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone?
I read that, and I thought of you.
©2005 by Peter Montfort
Peter Montfort has been a waiter, gas pump attendant, taxi driver, yard man, layabout, almond factory worker, surfer, journalist, and freelance writer, among other things. Currently he works in home health care, and lives on the island of Kaua`i.