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Poems for My Mother

Poems for My Mother

Runner-up for Best Poetry Chapbook, San Diego Writers Book Awards, 2002

Bonita, Part 1

Her hands foreshadow
her death
     skeletal fingers
     stiff
     cold

She lifts her left arm in jerks
until her fingers brush her ear
reaching higher
scratches her head

A prelude
     to her
     story

After my father died
she accumulated his gestures
     one at a time

Keeping him alive
     in her own frail body

And just as he always did
     she slowly
          lowers her hand
               as she
                    begins
                         to
                              speak.

Her voice
     so low

It was the railroad that did us in

Who, Mom
Did who in

All of us
you and me
Mother
everybody

He was gone too much

You know the other women

You mean Grandpa

Familiar veil of vacancy
drops over her eyes

And this story is lost
like all the others

     Barriers
painstakingly
     erected
over eight decades

Began
     to
          fall
               after
                    he
                         died
Slowly
     at first

then crumbling
     faster and faster

Until even her body
was stripped
     bare
     helpless

Her still beautiful face maintains youth
with 100 tons of cold cream
applied faithfully every night
and her long sleeved
silk blouses
tucked into tiny waisted polyester pants
belied the decay
until the day
she filled
her diaper
and waited patiently
     indifferently

while I cleaned and re-dressed her

oblivious

to the ancient rolls of excess skin

fallen

over a frame that never topped
100 pounds

even when she was pregnant.

How do I reconcile
     this sad
confused woman
     who canít remember
how to brush her teeth
     with the mother
I have known

The mother obsessed
with appearances

Doling out
     not love
but approval

in direct proportion

to the success achieved

     A teaspoon for an A
     A cup for the lead role in the school play

Punishment administered less judiciously
always withdrawal

turning her back until
     the unthinkable offense and I
          no longer
               existed.

Now I am the center

even more

I am her world

her past

her caretaker

For fifty years
we did not touch
Now she is hungry
for my hand

As I am hungry
for her stories

Together

we act
unfinished plays

I am her mother

her sister

sometimes myself

Inevitably
     I miss
          my cue
recite
     the wrong
          line

Her blank look of despair
ends the drama
and so we begin again

The next time
and the next
the next
the next

Conspirators

set upon finding the truth

This is the only way
it could have happened

this search
for what
was real

Her strength had to ebb

so that the mask
she held steadfastly
     to her
          face

would fall

and I
     protective
of her
     vulnerability

can discard my old list

of things she did
and did not do
when she wore
the mask.

Bonita, Part 2

Fragments of truth
we have uncovered so far
     culled
           from our scenes acted out
               confirmed
                     by photograph albums

Her grandmother was Jewish
     shunned
          by both sides of the family
               when she married

Her father
     working on the railroad
          dallied
               with other women

Her mother
     shamed by his behavior
          held her children
               to the strictest code of conduct

Her sister
     confided
          a love affair with a married man
She never saw
nor wrote
nor spoke
to her again

My father
     a free spirit
          agreed to uphold her standards
               slipping only occasionally
She forgave him

Her first born
run down
on his way to school
by a driver
     still drunk
          from the night before

Her sorrow so deep
it could not be shared
only endured

Chronically fearful
she could not abide
     deviation
          from the rules
               she set out for her family
Shame was to be avoided at all cost

These are truths still hidden

Why
does she not have
one picture
of her wedding

Why
did she spend a year
not working
with her aunt in San Francisco
was her aunt gay
did she know

Was she a different mother
to Stephen
than to Denny
Did she love them both

We are running out of time
She
     falls
          more often now
               tires more easily

This is hard work
          getting at the truth
and
mostly
she
      would
          rather
               sleep

I wait until I hear her soft snores
I leave her alone

The worst day so far
She greets me with
Where are all my things
What have they done with them

I cannot indulge this fantasy
Look around
Mom
all your things are here

No
she shouts
these are all new things
all new people here
they are all in cahoots

A fellow resident peeks in the doorway
Are you all right Bonita
I seize this bit of reality.
See, Mom itís Evelyn
still here

Theyíre conning her too
Listen
She grabs
both my arms
pulls herself up
You think Iím crazy donít you
No
Mom
just a little confused

She presses her face
against my shoulder
Promise me
if you call and
I sound
the least bit peculiar
come as fast as you can
promise

And so we conspire
     once again
          this time
               against her demons

A funny thing happened today
I ate dinner with her
in the dining room
as I had many times
this time
she tells me
how much she likes the restaurant
This place is always full
she says

Even her name is different
Born Edna Bonita
she insisted upon Bonnie
even as a little girl.
     Edna
          was ugly
     Bonita
          was Spanish
      Bonnie
           was pretty and light

But her health insurance
and social security cards
read E. Bonita
everyone in this place
trained
to call residents by name
addresses her as Bonita
She doesnít seem to care
one way
or the other

Separate names
separate her lives

We moved Bonnieís things
the green rolltop desk
the clock
the loveseat
the dresser
framed photos
the bookcase
the knicknack shelf
the gold chair

these things
we moved into Bonitaís room
Only the single bed is new
a better size
besides
urine stained
the old mattress

Which one is real
Bonita emerged
as Bonnie
     started
          to die

Bonnie was selfish
          neglectful

Bonita is generous
      reveling in gifts
          to her children
               and grandchildren

Bonnie maintained the fiction
     that nothing could go wrong
          in her family
               nothing bad
                    could ever happen
                         to any of us

Bonita sees danger
everywhere she looks

Bonnie would not see me
the year I was treated
for breast cancer

Bonita asks about my health
tells me to take care of myself

Meanness
     was not born
          in Bonnie
               only fear
                    and the instinct
                         to survive

Bonita knows
     she will not survive
          and welcomes
               the prospect

Bonnie is already gone

It is time
for Candy to go
Those two could never forgive

Bonita and Candace
struggle on together
in their search for truths

Between us
there is nothing to forgive.

Candace's Home Awards and Background

Released 2009 Released May 2010
Small Moments in Time: Memories of Lassen County The biography of a heavyweight boxer,
Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story
Published Novels An Award-Winning Poetry Chapbook
The Trap
A Mingled Yarn
A Thousand Strands
Poems to My Mother
In the Works An Award-Winning Essay
Portals
Emergence
The Love That Sees Me Through