Begin Again

It is my mother’s season
the end of November
foggy winter
the evening time of year
when day looks like night
and clouds rise from the ground.

It will always be
the Saturday before Thanksgiving
that she awoke at dawn
sat up
on the edge of her bed
put her hands down
one on each thigh
and died
without blinking an eye
when the angel came
out of her walk-in closet
carrying a brown and white
baby saddle shoe
flattened from years
of lying in the bottom
of one of her boxes of papers.

Her sacrosanct papers
hidden under the crossed lids
of cardboard boxes
bound in strapping tape
and carried from house to house
state to state
in and out of moving vans
like the talmud
the host
or any unapproachable sacred text.

In one of the boxes
I found the other flattened
brown and white saddle shoe
(the one the angel left behind
for there must have been a pair)
and a brown bottle of Ritalin
prescribed to my grandmother
by Doctor Poser in the 1970s
no wonder Ma always sat
drumming her fingers on the table
saying Nei, nei, det e ikkje greit å være i Amerika!
gumming a smile
rocking back and forth
in her straightback chair.

I did not question
why my mother saved those pills
for nearly twenty-five years.
They might come in handy
was how she thought, she wasn’t
the go-to-the-doctor type.
But whose shoe was it
this hardly worn Baby’s First Shoe
and why was it there
along with documentation
of her name change from Tallulah
(how she scorned her parents taste
in naming her after a movie star)
to Sylvia, and poetry scraps
drafts and redrafts of lines of verse
and of her own letters
which she wrote and rewrote
to get just right, keeping a copy
for herself as evidence, proof
of what she did and did not say
in case someone should accuse
and because it pleased her
to re-read what she wrote
and enjoy once again
being well spoken and right.

My mother did not know
that somehow
that day
even though she had closed the blinds
and bolted her bedroom door
from the inside
the angel would get into her closet
and she would die
she did not expect this
or she would have destroyed
the draft of a letter she wrote
to a man, a married man, a doctor
circa anno 1970
her long well formulated cursive
tilting firmly to the right
something insistent and sulky
between the lines
about them meeting again
or not or where or why
it was not like my mother to whine
or hurl the words your wife
like a knife.

But there it was
and I remembered the time she left
my sister and me to babysit, it was night
and Paul lay upside down on his bunkbed
bracing his feet on the paneled wall
crying When is mommy coming home?
When is mommy coming home?
as we jeered and mocked him
we didn’t know why or where she went
only that she had gone in a taxi
because though in her forties
she didn’t know how to drive yet.

I didn’t tell anyone about that letter
except maybe my husband
if I was still telling him everything then
I don’t remember, all I know is that
when it got to be four, five o’clock
and it seemed my mother
had still not gotten up
he kicked down the bedroom door
took two steps in
and turned around nodding
She’s dead
How do you know? I said
pushing past him
and there she sat
staring straight ahead
one hand on each thigh, like Buddha
if Buddha had ever sat
on the edge of a daybed
her enormous belly
bearing the blue scar
wide as a tire track
where first my dead brother
and then the other two
were pulled out.
I didn’t recognize my own voice
a child wailing My mommy!
My mommy! My mommy!

anymore than I recognized
the possibility that this woman
my mother
would have allowed herself
to be caught dead
wearing neon pink bikini briefs.

But there she was
up at dawn
in black bra and pink underwear
on the Saturday before Thanksgiving
when I was supposed
to take her shopping
for something to wear to her sister’s
but she had taken the other
brown and white shoe
and gone, not caring
for the first time in her life
what anyone thought
of her body
or if anyone read
her papers
or how disgraceful the house looked
to neighbors
if the blinds weren’t drawn.

After the burial
clouds rose from the ground
shrouding the tombstones
at the pioneer church
and Aunt Lucille said
isn’t this weather just like Sylvia
as we drove to her house
for Thanksgiving leftovers
blinded by fog
and the impenetrable black.

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