About My Mother

Listening for the Soothing Sound

Sounds muted in life are raucous in memory.
The nun with the clapper
at St. Joe's prepared me
for the hut-horp of the Army
parade field. "Hippo-hoppo
who got the moppo?" sang
the drill sergeant.
"Your left ... your left ... your left right left."
I loved the echo.
Good sounds but, really,
not so soothing.
In New York waking at 3 am
I heard the radio static
leftover from the Big Bang.
At Wallis Sands Beach the sound
of the waves crashing on the rocks
vetted my love for you.
When I heard that first baby's
first laugh I realized I'd heard
the sound of home:
responsibility, commitment,
the death of what I thought
I really wanted--freedom.
Today, deaf, I don't even want that.
It's not quiet in my head. The tinnitus
mixes up echoes, Big Bangs,
and laughing babies tinni-trip
into a barely discernible hiss.
Without the hearing aid
there is no difference in the sound
of deaf and death.
One night I hear it in memory,
from my boyhood on 19 Oak Street
in Keene, New Hampshire,
my mother working at her foot-operated
Singer Brand sewing machine,
the soothing sound.

My Mother's Donuts

On your deathbed
you told me the stems
of the flowers I picked for you
when I was a boy
were too short to put in a vase.
I didn't have the heart
to tell you, you said.
I remembered the smell of the sun
on my clothes that you hung
on the line on a hot summer day.
And in the winter the smell of the air
from the clothes
steaming off the radiators.
You remembered how happy you were
with a new electric dryer.
I remembered you made donuts, I said,
the aroma, the heavenly taste
when the donut
is still hot from the boiling oil.
By the time they cooled
the taste was ordinary.
In those days people didn't tie
their dogs, you said.
Oh, yeah, I remember now,
They came from miles around
drawn by the smell of your donuts.
You always made the mistake
of throwing them the holes.
I couldn't help myself.
I laughed--you were too weak to laugh.
And in the spring
when dad burned the dead grasses,
do you remember that smell?
And the color of the new grass
growing through the black burn scar
after the rain, the brightest green
of the new season?
There's no waiting for an answer;
you've shut your eyes.
I go back in time,
see myself picking flowers,
a boy's pure love for his mother,
so brief.