Force of Circumstance

Force of Circumstance


My mother crossed out whole passages

of love letters, cut away inscriptions in books,

preferring scars to the potential harm

of intimacy. Now at seventy, she confides

over the phone, It wasn't worth it, so I know

she thinks I'm dying.


My ninth day in the hospital, she called

the surgeon at his house, told him he better

figure something out, to stop my kidney

bleeding, then she goes on to say how, in Detroit,

she stayed up scribbling poems, furiously,

in the night kitchen, writing and eating puffed rice,

while our bottles boiled.


I remember the Smith Corona my father bought

for her birthday, and I played with—carriage

return like a rifle shot, strategic upside-down,

backward, paper insertion, black superball

rubber roller, and keys that locked midair

in words I believed were code.


She preferred scrawling her looping lines on scrap

pads, envelopes, my father's defunct business

letterhead. Her "box of papers" followed us

from house to house, found its final rest behind

the padlock of her condo bedroom closet.


She says over the phone, I've thought it over,

for the past fifteen years or so, and realize they

were just for me. Then she adds, I could still

crank out a few poems, as if bargaining for my life,

or her own.


Published in Burden of Light, Fast Forward, 2014