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Keeping Mum

Betsy Struthers
From:   Driven. Black Moss Press, 2000.

If anything is sacred, the human body
is sacred.
Walt Whitman


My grandmother perfected the creative use of silence, took it with her
to her grave, tight-lipped to the bitter end.
There was no help in her, or for her, her mind wandered,
and she lost us.

My mother went a little crazy, Dad so cold in his coffin
no matter how she called his name out loud
or leaned whispering into the transparent whorls of his sound ear.
Desire will not bring him back, nor confession.

And I myself have been known to lie
by not speaking, or speaking too late, or out of turn.
I drove her away from the cemetery, passed her
tissues to stifle tears. I said, and I heard myself say,
It's all right now it's over.


I cannot stay with her forever, and though she holds my hand, she
tells me to go home to my own family.
I pull out of the driveway and her door is still open, she leans
against the frame, arms crossed, not waving, getting used
to being left alone. Oak leaves spiral in the draft, cling
like wrinkled wings to her hunched shoulders
Chrysanthemums fling gold petals in her path


And driving home all I can think about is you waiting for me, and
if you were not there, what could I do but
keep going, the hills black in front of me, trees skeletal,
long fields falling away, river coiling around
twists in the road, its soft shoulders sagging
So simple to slide off, over, into. Simply
to be with you. My need so desperate, it rises into my mouth.


Our son's voice a murmur on the phone behind his bedroom door,
his chair empty at table.
Where is the boy whose body I knew better than my own, every
fold of skin, every dimple? So many times I leaned over his bed
to catch the tickle of his breath on my cheek. This
young man with his awkward hands, who stiffens in my hug.


So hard to leave him, reading fantasy under the covers.
I am sick of this mute grieving, confusing the loss
of my father for my son. I want his arms around me, I want
to press my wet face to the thud of his heart beating, There,
there. There, there. The rhythm of comfort.
The first and the last word.


Here is the true story: my father's final act
was to kiss my mother. If anything is sacred,
it is this. Past speech, the print of lips
grants benediction.

Betsy Struthers's works copyright © to the author.

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