Thursday, September 21, 2006

Written For My Mother, Angela Thaler, 1984*

My Mother Is Alive
(Written for my mother, Angela Brill Thaler, in 1984, soon after
a near fatal car crash)

Angela Thaler 1950's

Some poets write
how their mothers are dead
who never really lived
except behind the ironing board
and in unfulfilled dreams --

Not me.
My mother is alive.

Floating on her back in blue water
she is monumental as mountains
on sky.

Other mothers drift
in white aprons
boneless as angels
in pitiful retrospect.

Not mine. Mine is rock hard.
Head on, two cars prove --
she is full of bones.
And a good deal of brain.
But -- thank God -- undamaged.

My mother sews like a factory.
Plays piano like an army.
Is a nurse, like a doctor.
A secretary, like the boss.

A lover of mushrooms
wild geese and waterfalls.
A connoisseur of North Country snow.

She can be a carpenter.
A seamstress. A politician.

My mother can knit an intricate sweater
& read a book at the same time.
Write a book. Design an afghan.

Organize a peace march.

At 72 she does JANE FONDA exercises
to keep herself strong.
And nobody beats her
in scrabble.

My mother speaks 5 languages
-- fluently --
And Latin.
And Greek.

In fall she climbs trees
to pick crabapples
And bakes them into stroodles
And boils them into fruit soup.

Or she's working in the Dr's office
and the patients want her advice
as well as his.
Or she's teaching German in the high school.
Or she's traveling to South America.

Summers she swims her favorite river
to the island & back. Every day.
The breast stroke. The crawl.
She is slick as an otter on her back.

Dreaming under summer's blue dome.

Dreaming in the night under stars.

Dreaming this hard morning
on a different river. Today my mother is hurt.
She is drifting in a drugged stupor
on a river of pain.

Her high forehead is bloated
like a rank summer melon & life
tastes bitter in her mouth.
She cannot eat.

Under hospital sheets
my mother's body lies limp;
pitiful as an angel.
Her bones are all broken,
eyes swollen shut.

In her ears a roaring
like a waterfall.
Distant music of pain strums
electric against her overstressed nerves.

In her teens in Vienna she played
the accordion.
Wrote verses to sing at weddings
& parties. And all the boys
liked her with her flashing
green eyes.

She smoked cigarettes
with the best of them.
And danced into the night.

My mother was no angel.
But she knew how to live.

And then Hitler came & all Vienna
turned sour in her throat.
All dreams became nightmare
& the nightmare was no dream.

But my mother lived.
Crossed borders by batting her eyes
at the guard.
Crawled under barbed wire.
Death followed and roared
& howled in her eardrums.
But she clung to her spirit
in the white dizzy Alps.
And though everything hurt
she lived.

It's a family joke
how when she was born
all swollen and dark
in her little white bed

an uncle, condescending,
said, "Don't worry that she's ugly.
Maybe she'll be smart."

They named her "Angelika,"
And she was wild as
Cochise in the movies --

painted her face
& called herself
"Quimbo the Indian."

And only her guardian spirit
kept her alive
through a bone-breaking

But she was smart, Herr Death.
And she kept faith
in her guardian spirit --
who kept faith in her.

And as for you, Herr Death,
this time in your "car accident" uniform,
you hit her but missed her

And this nightmare
which is no dream
also will end
in her favor.

Already the x-rays
are changing their minds.
Her broken bones are healing themselves
in your face.

My mother will swim again.
Walk again.
Command the piano.

She will argue philosophy
in 5 languages.
Slaughter us all at scrabble.
And hold her grandson
on her lap --

whispering together
as they do.

And as soon as her eyes
are open again
my mother will read this poem
that I wrote for her.

She will know in this world
how much I respect her.
And love her.

And thank God.
And thank her.
And thank her true guardian spirit.

That my mother --
my strong unrepeatable mother --
is no angel.
My mother is alive.