I’m trying to imagine you imagining me
finding, at the bottom of a plastic storage bin—
under clippings from your Daily Camera column,
under stray snapshots of family I never knew,
under rust-stained doilies and your baby shoes,
your life spread out around me on the floor—
this folder: “Confidential Materials Enclosed.”
Your poems. I was, what, eleven? You’d taken them out
to read to me, then burst into tears, ran to your study,
left them splayed beside me on the window seat,
summer light fresh as your mother’s death that spring.
Imagine me finding your words, losing mine . . .
I know the typeface: that old Royal you gave me. And
“a mind that seeks/with words/to say these thoughts.”
“a mind that seeks/with words/to say these thoughts
that/wander as in a maze.” I hear your heart—
iambic, broken. Rhythm, remains.
At your memorial in the Methodist church basement,
I read a few of yours aloud, couldn’t stop myself
from adding Williams, Dickinson, one of my own.
Suited, I sweated. Your brother wore a Marines tee.
Stories he told me: wild teenage you, sneaking out
all night, then dating my dad. Stories your poems
from your second marriage tell: there was a woman
who acted like a wife. “I’d write you a love poem,
if I could. Instead, I’ve cleaned the house. I’d write
a poem that tells all the thoughts I have to share, but
rather put a clean ashtray by your favorite chair.”
You put a clean ashtray by your favorite chair,
read true crime, ignored the phone, smoked, smoked.
Three marriages left you happiest alone. The last
leeched your pension, but you reclaimed your name.
Were thirty cats too many? On my visits, their reek
choked my sleep. Sleepless, you ordered gems
from Jewelry TV, to hoard in dresser drawers. (Appraised:
fake.) I found baskets of handed-down kids’ clothes
you’d laundered for the next needy family. Checks
to the Mart Messenger to cover Catfish Hut’s ads
when the owner’s granddaughter was sick.
Regrets? None, you said, but: “I’d write a poem
if only I could say words that won’t come out. Instead
I chafe and tease. Knowing that you know what I mean.”
“I chafe and tease”—I learn what you mean,
heartsick, from what you learned in your edits.
And really, what future is there but this
parsing of (y)our past?
Thirteen sheets of typing paper,
8.5” x 11”, 6” x 9”, most dated May, 1975.
Alone in a house deep in Alabama pines,
your husband away for work in Birmingham,
you used what you had. Grief left you time.
Clatter of keys all morning. A walk in the yard.
Weeding the garden, where you heard “a toad
setting up shop by the tomato plants” and hurried
back inside to write it.
Dad dropped me off in June
for the summer.
You came out of your study,
gathered your poems, shut this folder
“Maybe I read too much. Mother always
said so. She’s gone now, so I can’t ask her why.”
You’re gone now. And now. I can’t ask why you wrote
“Confidential Materials Enclosed” across this folder’s face,
like a spell to let you forget her, the one who wrote.
I can guess which poem you drafted last: scarred
with strike-outs, felt-tip over typescript, “What is it?
What’s wrong? … I scream, but make no sound.
Why don’t they hear me? … I could tell you things.
Why the search for Mr. Goodbar. A plug for the
emptiness. Let us pray … Watch the fruit fall
in on itself.” You had to leave her there, with me
on that window seat, while you wept in your study.
You had to go on, with yet without her. She was
yet was not my mother. Years later, that line of mine
you said you kept re-reading: to be is yet to be imagined.
You said you kept re-reading to be is yet to be imagined,
words that now come to me as if they were yours,
our words, together, apart from us, themselves.
“Complete within itself, my soul
becomes involved with trees
reaching silently toward the sun.”
It’s sunset. It’s my birthday. I love sunset
and spending my birthday writing, all day,
and never having more than coffee gone cold,
an open dictionary, these trees going bare.
“I know the dishes are stacking themselves
in the kitchen sink. But, look, the berries
are turning dark. Let’s go watch them.”
This is me, imagining
you, imagining me.
- Matrilineation: Homage to Nell Parker (1944-2015) - November 20, 2020
- Homecoming - August 28, 2019