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.