Frail Dreams


As my mother lay waiting for surgery


                                    in hospital gown covered with heated blankets,

                                    twilit morn gave way to dawn, rush hour traffic racing

                                    beyond August's ragged leaves still in this pearl hour.

                                    she looked as one already dead, laid out still,

                                    chin tilted upward, brows & cheeks sculpted alabaster,

                                    the babe asleep within—I dreamed of all those passing

                                    the night awaiting day to come, imagin'd processional

                                    in silent light, & wept in the profound beauty of death,

                                    unseen companion always by my side, patient lover

                                    who brings the skull's eyes into the babe's heart,

                                    whose song is an endless float where does & fawns drink

                                    & lift their eyes to recognize you, whose dewy footfalls

                                    break the strong man & give him his tears, who fills

                                    the silent woman's tongue with words:  even now

                                    my mother opens her eyes, wondering if I too am still

                                    by her side, I dreaming of my own children, of the day

                                    when they'll wait patiently by my side & know this song.



Starlight Call

brothers & sisters
call back & forth

she's confused she's
got piles of dirty laundry
can't remember what she

said when said who said &
now she's lost a whole day—
uncertain what happened

between dawn
when she was following
doctor's orders

(going to breakfast)
& the starlight call
when, strangely alert, she

remembers she should
have gone to
breakfast & can't figure

what passed
between dawn &

& now, the brain scan,
the terminal

Death, you come


                        to speak to me thru your mask,

                                    you touch me thru my mother

                                                who now is dying, & think


                                                to make me shudder.  I see

                                    her as a child with all those

                        dreams a child bears like fresh


                        flowers in baskets to an aged

                                    mother, all those songs dancing,

                                                dancing in Memory’s too-large


                                                ears.  I see the ingenue

                                    standing at the church door,

                        triumphant with new husband,


                        their faces full of light,

                                    & the agony of divorce,

                                                the lost dream, the struggle


                                                to provide for innocents

                                    floundering in painful streams,

                        the aging woman emerging


                        alone, gripping that rage

                                    like a wand, a chalice

                                                with bitter dregs for all


who cross her.  Death,

                                    tho you have long sung

                        parting songs in my ear, I


                        long ago trimmed

                                    the twisted root that would’ve

                                                strangled me, & see now


                                                only an old woman’s

                                    tears, & I a sorrow child

                        left to bury a broken


                        dream, to sit quietly

                                    by the grave of sorrows

                                                & clean out the store-


                                                house that others may

                                    dream anew & let go

                        as they too flounder


                        & find their way

                                    on the stream where desire

                                                could break all to pieces. 




            scarecrow sitting up, bony fingers clutching her wetted hospital gown,

            rounded shoulders, trembling legs, she seems the death mask of a former

            self, round moons of her eyelids alabaster like the eyes of tomb statuary—


            she trembles & shakes, startled by my presence,  eyes now wide—alert.

            her mouth opens, she struggles to form syllables which fade even as she

            mumbles in tongues, hisses, sighs:  “what did you take from my plate?”


            there is no plate, only a teacup with teabag, perched above chickenflesh

            legs.  her eyes grow large, she now sees me, sees that I am David, not

            Charlie, closes her eyes when she talks or looks away, hands grasping


            the urine-stained gown.  she will not look me in the eye.  there is little to say,

            though she is quick to ask for her walker—I think, perhaps, so she might rise

            to use the bathroom. she takes my hand & looks away, but can’t get up.


            the fall has made her weak, feeble, forgetful, & the nurse comes & stops

            her escape.  she looks at me again & is startled, closes her eyes quickly. 

            her breath now labors; the nurse reassures me it’s only Cheyne-Stokes.


            I watch her breathing & think of her evasions:  so much pain between

            us, I the eldest, “beloved,” whom she once “would have smothered”

            while she could, as she brought me from the hospital.  how does one


            reach through a veil, through a death mask, through the blind eyes

            of a lifetime & somehow find the ghosts, the love that must have lived

            once?  at last, leaving, alone, I drive to my next station, dreaming


            how we usher out those we love whose love has always had conditions.

            I am the sorrow child again, lost in a wide sky where tears cannot show

            what the heart cannot fathom, where the heart must indeed be. 



                                    frail dreams


            half in the dark, my mother & I await the meeting

            that’ll turn her to her next dream, assisted living or


            warehoused nursing.  she is frail, lucid even in illusions,

            now singing/talking French songs she’d played on piano,


            now recalling voices already lost in her recent past,

            her skin still alabaster fair, eyes bright, unsteady


            even in her wheelchair as the nurse wheels her

            to the conference.  the therapist is gentle, yet as


            mother hears at last that she will not return to her

            former room, that she must turn to the next phase,


            she looks down, her mouth open, then blankly up at

            me, at Charlie tapping notes on his laptop:  we


            see the other side:  the phantom doctor calling

            at 3 a.m. with advice to take gingkoba, emails she


            sends on a computer she gave away 6 months before.

            therapists and nurses smile slightly; she cannot


            walk nor dress herself, is sometimes lost in vague

            time.  would she like to see a private room in nursing?



the black bees


quick banter swells from mouth to mouth

& she cannot keep up—her eyes move


across her now-grown children’s faces,

questioning.   frail, she does not speak.


gaunt  wrists rest near unfinished ice cream,

sunlight in chiaroscuro thru the window. 


pleased that they’re here, she cannot follow. 

later, under the courtyard’s rickety pergola,


she is solitary in her wheelchair, oblivious to

conversations continuing around her, her eyes


above, where black bees move from vine to vine,

busily engaged, the white clouds passing


slowly beyond them.  she follows the bees

with her eyes, her head tilting and turning


as they move.  I, the eldest, see all, but

do not intrude.  for today, this is enough.