I played Chopin on our grand piano,
languid legato, my mother suffering from radiation poisoning
that burned both the noxious malignancy
and her rage.
We had lived a kitchen sink drama in our
mansion on the hill.
But the set was pure Ibsen.
I was the freak in high school that ran crying
from band practice,
or French class. Ran home to make sure my mother
was still breathing.
Is there anything I can do,
my teacher pleaded so quietly, through dense fog,
as though someone had turned a dial,
the sound down, the picture out of focus,
all kinds of dials meant to be on—
off/ off/ off.
When my mother fell into a coma they
kept me from visiting her. It was melodrama now.
I had no idea what coma meant,
it was just a word after all,
and with no precedent in real life,
imagined her floating, astral travelling—
a gradation of death, (de)gradation of life into something
that wasn’t life anymore
All too soon, the porcelain teacup collection
that had quivered at her rage, sat calmly,
waiting for a civilized tea to be set in the parlour.
Guests had come to pay their respects
for she had always been an effervescent hostess.
And they knew nothing of the quagmire of hostility
that had held us all hostages for all those years.
What I remember of the Shiva is seas of tea
and every description of cake, kumquat preserves on
scones, clotted cream;
for seven days and seven nights we stuffed ourselves
with sweets, while everyone cried
and the bit players tried their best to improvise:
Is there anything I can do?