Of My Mother, 92, With Alzheimers

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I hate to think she may no longer dream of me.

She lies on her couch and stares at the ceiling
like a bird. Blinks and keeps
staring. Her arthritic fingers like bird claws.
But her face also reminds me of a cat’s,
looking completely with seemingly unseeing
eyes. Then comprehending. Then
not comprehending. Her

frail, cold form, cheeks sunken, hair so usually
carefully kempt, now spreading out white and
lank and long behind her head on the
pillow, hair I’d never seen not in some
beauty shop cut, now left to
nature, oblivious to fashion. Ancient.
Crone hair. Mother, my dear affectionate
mother, a crone. But a

sweet crone. “Should I be here? Is this
where I’m supposed to be?”

Blinks. Recognizes. Loses the
There on her perch in a kind of
silvery nowhere. Who

took me downtown to the movies, by bus, later by
car, who dressed me warmly, snapping the
leather strap of my
cap under my chin, who
took me across the Bay Bridge to
San Francisco on the train (the span under the
automobile level above), and I

remember so pungently the smell of the
Hills Brother Coffee factory on the
San Francisco side, and the
coffee cup up-tilted ecstatic
Arab in yellow robe and white turban bigger than
life on the billboard. That was my

mother who took me there, who tilted her
head and smiled, and flirted, and hated her
round gray mother for flirting, and she even

now flirts on the bed, face up at me, winking,

frowning, opening eyes wide, pulling down her
mouth, then smiling that heartbreaking

mother’s smile. My

mother’s smile.


The Prophet Muhammad said Paradise lies at the
feet of mothers, and I
know it’s true.
My mother lies there with
Paradise at her feet, frail feet now in
soft moccasins, barely able to get her to the
bathroom with her aluminum walker for support,
her thin blue-scribbled legs, whiter than paper,
yet Paradise is there. She

spoon-fed me. That’s the
fountains of Paradise. She
held me close, that’s the
affection of Paradise, and worried herself to
death about me, and had the
dread despair, and was so

glad when I called, and looked into my
face now long and hard and
put her arms around my
neck with extraordinary almost vicelike
grip to kiss me, and though her

kiss, so dry, so cold, lips weathered, was
the kiss of death, on me and on her, it was the
kiss of life, a mother’s kiss, which is the

endlessly flowing rivers of Paradise with a
supernatural light flickering along their ripples,
and the air of Paradise is the mother’s atmosphere,

where she walks, where she
lies stretched out now, hands plucking a
coverlet, veiled eyes fastened on the
ceiling, already more in

Paradise than here. O God, may You

take her there!


Silver-haired Siberian mothers!


Stalking snow-deer, a bone clenched between their teeth,
silver eyes clenched against
storm, determined to get there!


Natural Wisconsin mothers on cow farms in denim
skirts and boots of rough leather, rope
burns on hands, faces of raw cow milk,
cheeks of burnt straw, eyes of hot


Moccasin mothers against high winds putting
feather skin capes over moon-faced papooses,
cowering in teepee dark, hearts beating deep,


Mothers in circle making quilt, toothless,
once-beautiful, lissome,
nimble-fingered, breasts bone, breasts now
dry as bone,
lonesome in their plenitude,


Mothers and more mothers, floating horizontal, head to
toe, great rings of them revolving
around the globe!


Mothers everywhere!

Living in wood crates on Chinese docks,
palaces with carpets five inches thick,
high rises, tenements,
the projects, the dumps, scrounging supermarket
tips, dipping croissants in
thick cream in outdoor Parisian cafés to feed their
young, birds in the air, mouse mothers in
holes, my mother in

California waiting patiently for death.

“Should I be here? Where
should I be? Is this all right? What
are you going to do now?”

“I’m just going to sit with you for a while,
mom. I’m just going to
hang out with you for awhile.”


4/1/98 (from You Open a Door and it’s a Starry Night)


Categories: Poems