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Tearing the Heart Out of the Matter

Tearing the Heart Out of the Matter.

Attending my mother’s dying.

February 5th 1999

The film has clicked and stopped. A stain

erases ghostly life. Claudette Colbert’s

steel pick, an instant ago chipping

martini ice, stabs the eye with blinding

whiteness. Gone, her dusky voice and cigarette,

gone in a blaze of light, corruscates and toasts

like my mother’s lungs crisped by glamorous promises.

Rage plays the stage of her crusted

lips, indignation “struts and frets”-- phantoms

slip from the darkness in her throat.

furtive as the Mexican dog

who has snatched her voice.

Only her eyes are left to plead.

Science knows how CO2 drowns

the blood; what oxygen each cell

may keep. Each plastic-wrapped fork

defends the nurse who turns away

from the puddling morphine I point out

under the blinking dispenser.

A two-cent join has failed. For hours

no one has fed the demon straining its collar

against the leash of my mother’s veins.

A falcon has pinioned her sparrow-thin chest.

“Reflex”, the nurse explains, each time

she arches her back like a man breaking on the wheel.

“They have no empathic sense”, says Lenny

of the lethal Peregrine he has talon-locked

to my gloved wrist. He marvels

that it preens for me, a stranger. But assures

me my cooing at its onyx black unblinking

eye means nothing.

It has closed now, having run to ground

my mother, whose eyes, dialed in to no

known frequency, reach for the helpless honor-guard

of children by her bed, even as she falls away.

Chanting the Prajna Paramita sutra,

holding a sprig of cedar picked along a grimy

Concord road, I cannot halt this flexing,

talons rummaging in her soft flesh.

“Run to ground”, Frail, fragile, undefended

mother, belly-up, thudding into the padded bed

as the killing-claws snatch her

into the empty throat of the sky

All things of the world speak of loneliness now:

shoes wait like dogs to be walked, clothes,

whisper in closets like hostages

The tree limbs, bare as electric wires,

hold Spring prisoner, refusing its ransom of beauty.

Who could have known her delicate

porcelain cup, on a faded green table

could swallow a life?

Small birds,

eyes cast warily skyward

refuse to sing in the flinty light.