I turn 35 tomorrow. I know that should mean something, seeing as how it’s one of those “multiple of five” birthdays. Truth be told, meh! I don’t flip out about birthdays anymore. That is, I don’t worry about “getting older,” as I’ve already come to accept the fact that I’m curmudgeony and therefore spiritually older. What’s more, I no longer look at my birthday as a day of having to do some sort of spectacular undertaking. Instead, it kind of turns into another day for me. On the bright side, I certainly don’t look 35. Last year I went out to lunch on my birthday and the waitress guessed I was turning 27. Sure, it likely doesn’t help her gratuity to guess that I’m 40. But I could see the genuine awe in her face when I told her I was actually turning 34. So, yeah, at least I’ve still got my boyish good looks. Well, my boyish looks, anyway. “Good” might be crossing the line.
The thing about having a birthday on May 8 means two things: 1) I share it with such celebrities as Harry S. Truman, Ronnie Lott, Sonny Liston, Thomas Pynchon, Don Rickles, Alex Van Halen and, gulp, this guy; and 2) I inevitably share my birthday on or around Mother’s Day every single year. Sure, it’s not the same as those of you who have to share your birthday with Christmas, but you do get used to the “stealing of the thunder” to some extent. Well, with Mother’s Day in mind, I thought I’d share a poem from my Master’s thesis about my mom. Sort of. First, though, I urge you to take a look at Roger Aplon’s poem, “It’s Mother’s Day.” I stumbled across his collection of the same name in a used bookstore in Chicago over 10 years ago. The best part is that it came with an audio CD of Aplon reading his poems, as well as several musical interludes. I absolutely love this poem. I knew it the minute I first read it. It’s got one of my all-time favorite lines, one I wish I’d written myself: “Without her, she said, the walls don’t square.” Ugh! Kills me.
So, if you like, you can actually download Aplon reading “It’s Mother’s Day” here, or simply read the poem on your own below, followed by my poem.
Happy Mother’s Day, mothers. Happy Birthday, May 8th-ers.
It’s Mother’s Day
and I’ve been watching 900 US Cavalry disembowel Chief Black Kettle’s Cheyenne women and their kids at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864 cutting only the mature genitals to stretch on saddle knobs in Ric Burns’ documentary “The Way West”.
It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve come back from a late lunch with Mom after an emergency trip to a Vet who put down our dying dog.
She was an old breeder who’d folded after her 2nd heart attack,
three litters and 5 years on the dog show circuit.
The breeder called her Jubilee and gave her up to us to nurse
through her dotage.
She left us behind with a rambunctious pup she reared as her own.
We’ll all need to adjust.
Our friend Renee recently lost her dog of sixteen years.
Without her, she says, the walls don’t square.
They’d cross the continent together
DC to Illinois to California.
In Colorado, Fort Lyon,
where Chivington mounted his assault,
lies southeast of Pueblo
where my son’s mother has a sister.
Arid in summer, brutal in winter,
not many settled here
on the way west.
Not many tourists.
Rooms rent cheap in southeastern Colorado.
Food’s generally fresh.
A good place to barter, shop for bowls,
A good place
on a long trek
to pull up
get mom a coke
let the kids stretch their legs and pee.
A good place too
for the family dog to cut loose and maybe dig for bones.
– Roger Aplon
On My Mother’s Self-Portrait
There you are, after all, not even twenty,
slim, gold throat and the kind of slight smile
older women offer to babies and strangers —
those thin, painted lips barely upturned
at the corners — your whole face blazing
with an artificial sheen: face slightly browned
and smoother than I’ve ever seen it since,
eyes wide open like tiny moons floating
in a clean, white pond. Seeing your total lack
of movement, I imagine you posed accidentally,
as if a camera captured you by mistake.
You’re perfect there.
But I wonder why
you didn’t paint your hair, those thick, black
strands that have come to frame your face.
Perhaps it was too difficult for your novice hand
to conceive. Instead your locks are swallowed up
beneath a hat — this white, delicate thing that closes
over you like a magician’s handkerchief
obscuring a blackbird in hand. You likely never knew
of chiaroscuro when you did it, but there you are:
this glowing visage forever smiling,
as if protecting yourself with a secret
I couldn’t possibly discover.
Every time I catch a glimpse
of your portrait, I remember that optical illusion
my teacher passed around our fifth-grade classroom
from one uncertain hand to the next, asking,
What do you see: the old woman or the young one?
How she tricked us into vision, taught us
what we could see, and what we couldn’t.
I always saw the girl first. No matter how hard
I looked, I could never see both faces at once.
Like the rest of the class, I was fooled.