Defiance (for Mommo)

The mirror that is seen is almost useless,
but I know the resemblances by heart, especially
that querulous contortion of my eyes, misread
so often as anger, that answers a question or
a statement half-heard or unexpected. People,
it’s nothing more than concern or curiosity, or a
challenging of unclear language; a need to fix
an unsatisfactory state of knowledge.

How many hours we clocked at the library,
working on that never-ending quest together,
I’ll never know, but I can’t help noticing my crib
is still lined with books, mostly science fiction,
science fact, and fantasy, novels whose caliber
would meet even your exacting tastes; everyone
knows you could teach college lit if not for
a few pesky pieces of stiff paper.

But I’m guessing you’d hate that: your words
on other people’s terms, at other people’s pace.
“She keeps to herself” they may say about you
but I know this is half a lie; after the parties,
explosions of notions are the introvert’s gift.
I miss the midnight dissections of Dickens,
the quantum mechanical travels, but luckily
I have your brain on speed-dial.

Where would half my worlds be without
your verification that they’ve yet to be written,
or my ego without your anticipation of sequels
and movie rights; I’m glad you’re patient about that
because my stories grow at the rate of gardens,
which you’ve apparently added to your long list
of artforms after pastels, drawings, wire figures,
and Surrealist pipe-cleaner cat toys.

You’re restless and bored and I dig that;
What other girl in the 70s had all her costumes sewn
from inspirations in the Encyclopedia Britannica?
What happened in the 80s I don’t want to talk about;
what decade of teenage angst doesn’t strangle
the tightest mother-daughter bond? Regardless,
I blame Reagan. We’ve never ceased struggling,
but at least we’re on the same side now.

Walking downtown I see ghostly overlays
of past-on-present. Behind the shiny windows
of apartments and offices, you and I eat burgers
at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, see a movie
at the Strand; it all went away before our eyes.
I get worked up about who can afford to live there
now (Reagan again), but at least when they built
the new library, they were thinking of us.

If only our healthcare system were redesigned
with such intelligence; every day you go to work
you navigate the rubble of a profession deformed
by greed. “Why”, even I used to ask, “doesn’t she
look for another job? Anywhere would be better
than that place.” But the residents know and
so do I, your subversive compassion; if not for
your defiance, who would even care?

Going back to both mirrors, I will confess to envying
everything, really. My commitment to keeping it all
together, being responsible, and not just running off
to join the circus, has always needed improvement.
And like everyone, I’ve wanted that long curly red hair,
but at least after all this time I’ve learned to be happy
making silk flowers for your braids, while my own
sharp blondness bleaches in the sun.

But sooner or later you’ll say, “You know, kiddo,
I’ve got enough flowers”, so I’ve crimped together
instead this ode to all the scrappy habits I’ve learned
from you, and to the fact that no one ever really knows
what’s going on inside our scrunched-up foreheads.
Like I said, it’s probably just that work-in-progress,
some tasty new problem. Or we could really be angry,
but man, that’s a whole other poem.

My offering for International Women’s Day. I wrote this and posted it on The Fairy of Disenchantment in 2015, and I’m happy to say that my mother has retired since then, and works for nobody but her muse. But she would totally run away and join the circus with me if I asked.

9 thoughts on “Defiance (for Mommo)

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