Hank Williams' Last Ride
The Day I Learn Her Diagnosis
I walk to clear my head.
There are no angels living under
the freeway overpass, no colors
where you are from, your brain
a jumble of neurons,
stretched and hiccupping.
Soon snow will come, fill
the negative space of your body’s
landing, erase all evidence
that once you painted a blank
canvas with your fear
unbuttoned. I have carried you
like a stone inside hope-emptied
pockets, like shame, like a word
I could not say out loud.
Now a voice, less heard than felt,
hallows my deepest parts,
opens me like a Bible.
Oh, Mama, can you picture it?
Me on my knees, the moon
in a mad orange flare.
The meeting ends with a prayer,
Hold fast the hand next to you.
Yesterday is a dream,
every tomorrow a vision of hope.
I squeeze the hands I hold,
a woman on either side,
one dressed in county-jail orange.
It’s humbling. We are all struggling.
My mother is perched and pillowed, dying,
her mind a highway of eroding neural paths.
She tells me intimate stories
without knowing who I am, dramas
whispering themselves into her ears.
A road map of saga, left to me to sort.
The woman on my right notices the scar
in my palm, caught on a piece of barbed wire
when I hopped a fence with Mark Fouty,
sophomore year, somewhere near Torch, Ohio.
He took me sky diving, made his own beer,
gave me an engagement ring the summer of ‘78.
Tempting, but as my mom pointed out,
I was just beginning my life.
My mother didn’t have choices,
having fled farm and family.
My daddy fresh from the war,
metaled and wired, a great catch,
both of them so broken.
On my sixteenth birthday I told her, I hate you.
Now she says she hates to leave me.
Thomas Merton wrote,
If the world were to end tomorrow,
I would still plant a tree today.
I leave the meeting.
Drink black coffee from a plastic mug.
Listen to the in-betweens my mother spins.
Trace the ruthless shadows of December’s moon.
return to poetry home