I'm looking for input. Tonight I'm doing a reading of selected poems about my mother and the last months of her battle with Alzheimer's Disease. My selection needs to be reduced by two poems. Which two of these do you suggest I cut? No need to explain unless you'd like to. A simple "X and X" would be a big help. [See my note below for a tally of the votes at 5:25 p.m.]
From a Line Uttered By My Mother
Oh I can smell the sound
a freesia makes in its sweet purity
It is the sound of all life has to offer
in one fragrant package of petals
It is the sound of roots growing
deeper, the sound of joy,
the smell of music swelling
on the breeze from the west
I Tried Laying Hands on My Mother
On the bony forehead rests a hank of hair
Cheekbones loom over a sagging chin
and a gaping slash of mouth
I brush back the thatch of white
But it falls through my fingers
I touch the knobby bones that rise
like hills above the sunken cheeks
Every movement of my hand is forced
against a tide
Suddenly I remember my daughter
at the age of five, lying on her bed
with the nightlight on. Her eyelashes
make little wings on her cheeks
I draw on her soft face with a finger
and I sing a monotonous song:
I’m skiing down your nose and skiing
round your mouth …I’m skiing round
your cheeks and up around your eyeballs
She lies still as a statue
while my fingertip skis over her face
and I love it, she loves it, she asks
for this. And this I can’t give
to my mother, lying still as a statue
on her bed. My hand will not allow it.
Mom Says Goodbye
After Alzheimer’s destroyed you,
you had one glowing day, clear as sunshine,
when your blue eyes twinkled at me.
Your face was beautiful in its ancient joy.
You reached up and cupped my face
in your hands, smiling as you studied me.
It’s wonderful, you said, and I knew
what you meant.
For a moment before
I asked you what was wrong
a sensation of otherness
swept through my blood
and my hand rose to stop
the words. Call it intuition,
that odd foreknowledge
of my life about to break
But my hand stopped
midway to my mouth
and the words tumbled out.
Why? Was I suddenly brave?
If so, courage deserted me
when I saw your head begin
to turn and your mouth moving.
A suitcase swam through the air
on flippers like a seal,
caught you on your forehead
and knocked you to the floor.
It swam out the open window
and I never saw it again
although I called and called
Your Dance of the Final Days
Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your old
cedar chest, scarred by the memories inside.
Here is your plywood sewing cabinet,
crafted by your father, its varnish worn.
Here I sit in your squeaky office chair
with the slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat
and its rusty chrome wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.
“Do Not Resuscitate”
When you left, you took
my vital signs with you
and I arrived at the rest
of my life without a pulse.
rattle my bones
like broken bellows
no one knows
I crouch here
on the couch
like they were
last week while
you and I
fought for your death
three long nights
days that bled
into each other
strange I should
fight to breathe now
as if my lungs
your last act
but I realize
how much I gave you
In the End
The ocean’s gray furrowed brow
reminds me of my brother’s face
when he turned to look unseeing
through her window
the day our mother died
Something marched across his face
in regimental rows, something quiet
but relentless, a failing general
reviewing his troops in calm despair
before that final, inevitable loss.
Thank you so much for considering my question and writing such thoughtful replies.
I don't know how other poets know when they've found the words and images that give a reader the experience that matters most to me: that sense of having participated in something so powerful, they feel it, and they feel it within the context of their own lives.
I don't know what happens in your head when you read my poems. I don't how to find out except to put it out there and ask. You've been generous with your time, and I'm grateful. You told me what I asked to know. See comments for the vote.