You can always smell it
when someone’s life is falling apart.
Should’ve known my mother was in deeper
than her late-night laughter let on
from cat piss rising off boutique rugs,
scent of bitter cherry still lingering
long after our colds were gone.

My father is a cleanly pressed suit
on Christmas morning
scooping my sister and me out of
my mother’s empty living room
and into his clean, white car.
Santa was late to your mother’s
this year,
he says, and by evening
my mother is dumb in a hospital bed,
curled around her knees
with the only kind of sorry
that could put her there.

In rehab, hope is bummed cigarettes,
cynical jokes, the first glimpse
of someone’s daughter
in the waiting room window.
My mother holds me on my first visit
with the focused calm of someone praying,
and I think she is.

When I was a kid,
someone opened the backyard gate,
let our blind dog out onto the asphalt
and cracked sidewalk riddles
of our neighborhood. My mother says
she still dreams of him, lost
in the coughing rain, the backyard gate
still swinging on its hinge calling him
home, and when she wakes up, she knows
exactly where he must have gone
to die, how the angle of light shines
into which dark tunnel, but does not go there.


Hospital bed photo by BrokenSphere (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.