Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Safeway

Even after an hour in her room
with eye shadow and rouge,
moisture whip, lip gloss, and perfume
my mother still looked like she was dying

unexotically,
still looked like a person
trying to impersonate a person
going somewhere other than the grave,

though she was only going to the store,
after weeks of living
horizontally
while her blood was scoured by detergents
bleached by blasts of subatomic light.

Riding on her bony little head,
the glossy auburn wig
looked like something stolen,
the lame hip pulled her to one side
like the stuck wheel of the shopping cart we pushed

past pyramids of fruit,
down mile long corridors of breakfast food
where cartoon animals shot sugar stars
over an infinity of bowls,

--a landscape which seemed,
in the brightness and abundance of its goods,
like somebody’s idea
of paradise--

and the bright, continual ringing of the registers
was like the sound of happiness
for sale.

I was angry, dutiful, and seventeen,
afraid she was going to read her obituary
in the faces of the shoppers;

frightened they would stop and stare
at the black cloud hovering above our heads
as we moved slow as history
up and down the aisles.

Maybe months of sickness had burned away my mother’s shame
and left in her dry mouth
a taste for irony, maybe she wanted
to show the populace

what death looked like in person
or maybe it was simply her last chance
to make small talk with the neighbors
who stopped to say hello--

Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Green,
whose kindness I imagined, then despised,
caught awkwardly among them as I was,
between the living and the dead.

But looking back across the years,
the scene looks different to me now. I see
a little group of people, halted
in the midst of life,
their carts jammed up
against the lettuce and the tangerines.

There is no gallows standing there,
no spectral executioner fingering his blade.

And I seem sweet at seventeen, innocent
even in my rage--
trying to protect
what didn’t need protecting
from what couldn’t be saved.

--Tony Hoagland here

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