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CapriUni Mudcat Poetry Corner (597* d) RE: Mudcat Poetry Corner 26 Oct 12

My latest, written in response to a "Blog Carnival" theme: Birthdays, anniversaries, and other days of celebration and commemoration

"If" and "When"

If my grief over Mother's death were a person,
This would be the year it could buy its first drink
With friends at the bar
Slamming the mug down in triumph,
Froth crowning its upper lip.
Then, maybe, there'd be singing.
Or, maybe, my grief, taking after me,
Would be a teetotaler, content
To drift on the rising tide
Of friends' besotted laughter.

If my grief over Mother's death were a person,
I'd make a wish that its friends,
When drunk, would only laugh --
Opening their arms wide for tipsy hugs
And slurred "I love yous!"

I remember the year my grief was born --
Seems like only yesterday, sometimes.
I, a grad student a hundred miles from home,
Rolling across campus in my motorized chair,
Would sing aloud, not caring
If my spastic throat Pulled the tune off-key.
I needed to sing, to give my voice
The power to cut through helplessness
Like the prow of an ice-cutter
Through the North Atlantic:

"My life flows on, in endless song
Above Earth's lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far off, hymn
That hails the new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing.
It finds and echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?"

Of course I got noticed.
Moving through the cafeteria,
The song's final notes trailing behind me,
I'd overhear: "She's such an inspiration --
Always so happy!"

The irony sparked
Even through my grief-fogged mind.

This woman: my mother,
Daughter of a mathematician,
Graduate of the Bronx High School of Science,
Asked me to work magic on her behalf --
To arm myself with Hope and Vision,
To battle at her side from a hundred miles away.
Whether she believed the Power of Thought
Could alter the progress of her cancer,
Or merely deflect the pity and disgust
That Oncoming Death inspires,
I do not know.

But when I was two, this woman, my mother
Refused to be cowed by the hospital psychologist
And saved me from a life behind institutional walls.
When I was eight, she taught me
How to write a letter of protest.
She hand delivered it to my teacher
At the PTA meeting, that night.
The next morning, I learned that the authority of justice
Could make the authority of position tremble.
When I was thirteen, in the spring of 'Seventy-seven,
We rallied together under hand-painted signs
So that I (and others) could roll across campus.

(While waiting for the elevator,
An acquaintance finds the courage to ask
If I dream of walking, or hope for a cure.
I say there is no cure. And anyway,
I'd rather spend my numbered days
Out in the world, writing stories, or teaching children,
Then behind the walls of a physical therapy gym.
My answer earns rebuke
For 'giving in to my disability')

When I was sixteen, Mother fought our town hall
For a wheelchair access ramp,
And cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony,
The mayor smiling at her side.
"I will support you in anything
You decide to do," she told me, years later --
"But it is up to you to decide it."

And so, for her sake, I sang
And told no one the reason.

"The water's wide, and I can't cross over.
And neither do I have wings to fly.
But give me a boat that will carry two
And both shall row
My love and I."

Reincarnation, she once said, happened
When daisies pushed up from the grave,
And bugs ate the flowers, and birds ate the bugs.
She assured me that the energy of her life,
(Like the energy of an electron) would be conserved --
And if I needed to, I could find her
In the downbeat stroke of a crow's wing.

In those first years, my grief demanded
All my attention, and care.
Now there are long stretches of silence between us
But it still wanders home in the middle of the night
Waking me from dreams.

For twenty-one years,
I have watched for the shadows of crows.
And told no one the reason.

Until now.

A video of this poem (with photos of Mother, and one of yours truly (circa age two), is here: "If" & "When" -- a Poem of Eulogy and Celebration

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