Poems by Patricia Keough Wilson
My Mother's Apartment
Yesterday I entered my mother’s apartment.
She was everywhere and nowhere.
There was the sense that she had left suddenly
in mid-sip of a noontime cup of tea or
on her way to glance out the living room window.
Yet the disarray, the taking apart stated otherwise.
There, her bed frame, a skeleton stripped of mattress,
next to it her colorful yellow flowered bedding,
forlorn but still cheerful somehow.
Now her great granddaughter sleeps on that mattress,
a kind of generational sharing of dreams and welcome rest.
Naked walls in her den,
the room where she spent most of the last quarter century.
All the family photos removed, stacked on the dining room table,
where we had gathered for family meals, celebrating holidays
and birthdays and times of tall tale-telling.
Generations of family caught on film, time frozen.
She lived surrounded by them and at times
far preferred their company
to the real-life versions, who wondered at her pulling away,
so insistently abandoning the family circle.
Scattered on the small kitchen table, odd pieces of her kitchen life.
I open the cupboard door and study the small line of mugs.
Bought by her granddaughter, my eldest daughter.
Years of sharing morning coffee and noon tea on my visits,
cradling those mugs sitting and talking about surface things,
although once she was a deep diver in spoken and written words,
sharing pain and joy, offering a willing ear
to my triumphs and failures, gains and losses.
I wonder if I can somehow steep a memory in one of those mugs.
And drink it deep, slow and as comforting our shared afternoon tea.
I quietly sort books, shelves and shelves of books, taking me mentally
to my own book-lined room thousands of miles away in a home
my mother never saw. Her traveling days ended a decade ago.
And I never knew why.
After a while I stopped keeping a bedroom waiting for her arrival.
It took much longer to stop hoping she would once again
appear for a visit and step into my arms.
I handle the books warily, as I sort,
knowing somewhere in some book, I will find the
mother I knew so intimately and too briefly.
There was a time when we both wrote poems, brief essays,
connecting through the process,
and the words were like a river where we waded
into the water, willing to risk sudden rapids or plunging temperatures.
We were more than mother and daughter during that writing season.
I know why mine slowed but I do not know why hers stopped.
Did that turning inside secrets and thoughts shift from relief to over exposure?
Was it advancing age? Who knows?
Not I, her poet daughter.
It is in the shelves of her books of poetry that I begin to shed invisible tears,
sorely missing the quiet hum of our conversation when we were together,
the years of long phone calls, the sharing of theater and concerts,
the passion for words on paper.
In her high school year book, I discover my teenage mother’s
hand written poems and learn she was a poet long before she
audited writing classes in college in her 70s.
I find notes tucked in books used at college, notes from me to her
scribbled in books of literature and poetry and the grief chokes me.
I am overwhelmed with loss, loneliness for the poetess
who retreated into some place I could not reach,
walled into self-chosen solitude or isolation.
I walk out of her apartment to go to visit her in the nursing home.
She seems not to hear at times so now we write to her.
I pick up a dry erase board and write, “I miss you. I miss our long conversations.
What do you think of all day when you are just sitting there?”
She reads my words. I see a fleeting something cross her face,
Something unreadable and hidden in her eyes.
She looks away, turns back and says, “Better days, better times.”
I wonder if our shared conversations and love of words and writing
are part of those better days, better times -- or if she has gone far away
to a place when she was young and courted by my dad,
long before her decade of poetry writing in her 70s.
I kiss her and say I will visit tomorrow.
Weeping will not bring any of it back but still I weep.
And return to helping clean out her apartment where
she is everywhere and nowhere.