Why I Love Darkness

A short while ago,  I promised deeper poems.  What follows is a second poem about my mother and what it was like when alcohol took over her life.   It is also about my relationship with my father, but more on that later…

 

Why I Love Darkness

Memories
Are not backlit;
Like fretful flies,
They dodge and flit,
Before they settle in the mind.

Memories
Are not a choice;
Like poetry,
They give a voice
To wounds that fester and endure.

1960:
Standing on the lawn that morning,
The grass I mowed and left behind,
The little swathes I failed to cut.

Our living room:
My father sleeping by the fire.
Ten o’clock, a ringing phone,
Stunned surprise.

The kitchen, by the phone:
My father’s eyes,
Beggar’s eyes.
Get dressed, he says;
Just go next door.

Our neighbor’s house:
My mother, barely clothed,
Sitting on the neighbor’s chair,
Chatting like a party host.

Our front lawn:
Supporting her,
Her feet as useless
As her brain.
Falling halfway,
Coming up covered
With brownish blades.

In the hallway:
My father standing silently,
My mother comatose,
My sister crying softly.

Our living room:
The dirty rug.
The dying fire.
The ashtray with its sickly smell.
I stand alone.
After a while,
I go round
And pull down every shade.

Is Your Mother Home?

In 1952, my family moved to the upper floor of a house at 1412 North St in Beaumont, Texas. As was common in Gulf Coast homes of the period, the house had ceiling fans in every room (except the bathroom), and a screened-in sleeping porch at the front. My four-year-old sister and I were given beds at either end of porch, and our parents had a bedroom at the back. It wasn’t much, but it was all a Professor of Mathematics with a family could afford in those days.  Almost every night, after my sister was asleep, and I was tucked in for the night, my mother used to come, and sit on my bed, and sing to me.

Her singing set off a complicated set of reactions in me. I liked the attention, but even as a child I could tell there was something wrong. Part of it was that she couldn’t carry a tune, but there was something else, an odd sensation that she was not really in the same room as me.It was many years before I realized that she was drunk.

My mother was many things: a talented actress who could command an audience even in minor roles, a splendid card player who was also the best chess player in our family, and a hopeless alcoholic who gave herself over completely to the bottle as she entered middle age. The following poem is about this last aspect of her character, but my memories of her better side linger as well.

 

“Is your Mother home?”−
I want to please -− always, always.
So I agree to look.

My Mother’s bedroom door is open wide;
From the hallway,
I see her asleep upon her bed,
Her hair and clothes in disarray.

I step inside and glance around –
An ashtray with a butt still smoldering,
Empty wine bottles lined up neatly on the bedside table,
An alarm clock ticking mercilessly.

I sigh, and breathe the smoke-stale air.
Outside, a branch scrapes against her window.
I find it comforting.

For a while, I listen to her gentle snores.
Then I return to my Mother’s bridge class−
Four bewildered women
Standing by the oil stains in the carport.

“She’s not feeling well,” I tell them with a grunt,
And close the door firmly, to their dismay.

I am only fourteen;
They will forgive me.

Going Deeper

It has been a while since I’ve published a poem on this blog, and there is a reason.   I’ve been preparing myself to write about more serious personal issues.

About a year ago, I had a profound, life-changing experience. I went on a two-day retreat in which I did nothing but eat, sleep, and read and reflect on my friend Cathy Wild’s forthcoming book − Wild Ideas: Creativity from the Inside Out

For years, I had been aware of a significant weakness in all my creative endeavors: an inability to face directly the frightening memories that shaped my childhood and young adulthood. As a result, almost everything serious that I wrote – especially my one novel and most of my short stories − seemed incomplete, as though I always chose to leave the wrong things out.

As I read Cathy’s book of wise guidance and personal insight, I experienced something I had never experienced before – a conversion, a blossoming of faith. I finally accepted that my deepest secrets, secrets I used to hide, were a source of creative power. And in accepting that, I accepted myself.

In the near future, I will post a poem I’ve written about one of those deep secrets – my mother’s alcoholism.   More work about that and other secrets will follow.