Poem by Laura Tate

May 15, 2023

On my sixtieth birthday

I’m on a phone call with my mother, 
and I can tell she’s been saving up again, 
like jars of old pennies 
disguised as words she’ll throw at me.
This happens when I stir things up 
with my too many questions 
that slip off my tongue like tiny fish,
their soft and slick bodies able to squeeze 
between rocks and rusted metal
at the bottom of worn out rivers.

You have a certain tone, she says.
You think you have all the answers.
But you don’t.

I almost believe her, but it was a question 
asked, not an answer given, 
and sometimes I can not hold back 
my unfollowing of rules, unspoken laws 
guarded with piles of rocks built stronger 
when my father lost his mind to Alzheimer’s 
and finally his life, and then, 
when my mother’s bones 
deceived her and she could no longer 
walk down stairs without pain.

We are managing just fine, she says.

For a time we met halfway 
between her cheap white wine
in a cardboard box and my bottle 
of merlot from Australia.  
We’d stay up past two in the morning 
sharing wine soaked words 
and cheddar cheese on small crackers.  
I liked knowing she drank more than me.  
But that was when my father 
wandered lost in his own house, 
wearing a shirt and no pants 
or pants and no shirt, shaking 
his finger in my mother’s face
because there was no more 
strawberry ice cream 
and every day he accused her 
of new crimes, so when he finally 
went to sleep, 
we were momentarily happy.  

When people ask me how I am
I say I’m doing better, my mother would say.
Better than how it will be later on.

It’s almost five years since he left us,
and five years since my last glass of wine.  
Sometimes it isn’t easy being sober
or accepting the things I cannot change,
so today I’ll write a list of words 
I’m not allowed to say,

And when I’ve filled up a page, 
I’ll rip it into tiny pieces 
and feed them to a fast river
where rusted metal clings to muddy banks
and small fish linger 
amongst silent stones.

About Laura Tate

Laura Tate’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Halfway Down the Stairs, Anti-Heroin Chic, Allegro Magazine, The Stray Branch, and Mobius. She was an elementary school teacher in central New York. Now she’s a retired grandmother in Virginia.

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