To See My Mother - By Sharon Olds
It was like witnessing the earth being formed,
to see my mother die, like seeing
the dry lands be separated
from the oceans, and all the mists bear up
on one side, and all the solids
be borne down, on the other, until
the body was all there, all bronze and
petrified redwood opal, and the soul all
gone. If she hadn't looked so exalted, so
beast-exalted and refreshed and suddenly
hopeful, more than hopeful—beyond
hope, relieved—if she had not been suffering so
much, since I had met her, I do not
know how I would have stood it, without
fighting someone, though no one was there
to fight, death was not there except
as her, my task was to hold her tiny
crown in one cupped hand, and her near
birdbone shoulder. Lakes, clouds,
nests. Winds, stems, tongues.
Embryo, zygote, blastocele, atom,
my mother's dying was like an end
of life on earth, some end of water
and moisture salt and sweet, and vapor,
till only that still, ocher moon
shone, in the room, mouth open, no song.
Pared to the bone,
The ivory skin is wrinkled,
Cool and soft to the touch.
Spare flesh on the old bones,
The hands plucking,
Plucking the sheets -
She lies on her side,
The blind eyes open.
Still smelling sweet.
She always has.
I bend to kiss her hands.
To tell her I am here.
"Oh, cover me with kisses,"
She cries in that hoarse,
Rusty voice -
And I do.
Silence then as
She drifts away,
Listening to the voices of memory.
"Mother, it's OK to go," I say.
The next morning she dies,
Alone in the room.
I could have stayed,
What urgency called me away?
I wanted so to see her out,
To ease her through the door.
I ache for the chance
To be with her again.
Mary Murphy 8/15/89