I Am My Mother’s Keeper
In the end, she lives in all our former homes at once.
My father is gone, destroyed by his own hand,
it ripples backward and forward, like
he was never there. He was never anywhere.
It’s just me and her.
In New York, she has cancer, tumors everywhere.
They grow on her back, strangle her spine,
kill nerves, paralyze. She can’t walk. She is in her bedroom,
upstairs. Mine is next door, with my toy box.
I bring her crackers, water, tea.
There’s not much I can do to help.
In Miami, she sleeps a lot. In the bed
with the purple velvet bedspread, the
curtains are drawn. Her dresser holds her clothes,
her jewelry sits on top, next to pictures of
her and my father. Her things.
In the same building, in the same unit:
#313. Just me and her. It always was.
In California, chemo, radiation make her sick.
She is in her bedroom at the back of the house.
She cries, I try to comfort her. Her head hurts.
She is wearing a fuzzy white robe that smells like
In central Florida, her wheelchair is next to the bed.
She wakes crying, asking for my father.
I have to sort her meds, give her these pills:
© JEF 2007
Riding With Mary
The Virgin Mary sits
next to me in the
passenger seat, silent,
staring out the window.
I have to say
she makes me sick
with her unspoken reproach,
her pinched lips, her
robe of infinite blue
folded neatly around her
and her passive-aggression.
She knows exactly where we’re going
and what is happening. She knows
the double room, lethargic nurses,
thick steel needles and tubes and bags,
the hallucinations and the retching.
She claims she is here to
help, that the Lord is with her.
“Then why are we sitting at
this red light,” I want to scream.
“Why don’t you do something?
Why aren’t you like your image
on the ceramic plate hanging from
the wall of my mother’s dining room?
If all you can offer are
milky tears of compassion,
keep them, they’re useless.
I’m so tired of your
inability, your helplessness.”
The light turns green
and my angry foot
pushes down. Tires squeal,
we lurch forward and she
doesn’t acknowledge a thing.
What I really want to do is
stop at the next gas station,
put her out and leave her
stranded by the air pump and
pay phone but I don’t need to.
She is already stranded,
alone with herself and the
fact that all around her
is agony that she is
powerless to stop
for all eternity.