Poetry Sunday: On the Eve of My Mother’s Surgery

On the Eve of My Mother’s Surgery

BY DAVID GRAHAM

She takes Dad, for a treat,
to the upstairs dining room,
where there are tablecloths
instead of bibs, waitresses
instead of nurses, where
all their joshing and arm-patting
make him grin like a seven
year old. But he knows where
he is, sleeping alone
for the first time in five
decades, and so he tells
Cindy in his halting
whisper all about Mom’s
operation, confessing
“And I’m no help at all!”
This to a seventeen year old
with pretty face, carving
his meat into helpful cubes.

Out of the heart of dementia
he speaks unanswerable
truths, often as not confiding
in some minimum-wage
Cindy or Dawn, whose parents
weren’t born when he sailed
the South Pacific in a troop ship
or cruised timber deep within
the Allagash. They will not
connect this man in diapers
with the one on horseback
in the snapshot marking his door.
At shift change they’ll gun their cars
up the hill, radios screeching
and thumping, all the day’s
bottled velocity released
like bees from the hive.

And it’s true he’s no help
anymore, stripped of his
pocketful of keys, man
without wallet or car,
who knows just enough
for honest misery
as he studies the menu’s
bewilderments, trying
to find the words that may
release. “I’m walking much
better now, don’t you think?”
he asks Mom, and that’s true, too.
which helps neither of them
at all in their frozen love.
Sudden as a cloud across
the sun, he’s overcast
again: “Keep your voice down!”
he warns her. He knows all about
the secret tunnel system
under the town, where Jews
and Mohammedans skirmish …

And how do I know all this?
Out of some bent need for shape
and color, blues and riffs,
I build it from echoes
on the phone line, fragments
crumbling from envelopes,
fever dream pond ripples
reaching me a thousand miles
away. Then let my daily tears
wash into shower spray
once again, tears which
are of no help at all.

Grammatically Challenging Little Suckers

I think I’ve probably inspected the bees for the final time this season. Now we give the colony time to set its hive in order for winter. Which means it’s time for the colony to propolize the gaps between the boxes and to move honey to wherever it’s wanted and to cap the honey for safekeeping until needed.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Let me interrupt this lesson on “propolis”—which was where this post was headed and which you can look up on your own if you’re so interested in learning more about it right this second—because I need to share with you something that’s giving me fits.

For me, writing about bees is made difficult because of three things:

  1. Bees, of course, are singular creatures. However, the single bee is usually not the focus of my conversations nor of my attention. The bees (plural) are the focus of our efforts here. But the (plural) bees operate as a (single) unit called “the colony” or “the hive.” So, while the “bee” is grammatically singular—as is the hive or the colony—“bees” are plural. I am constantly going back to change sentences or pronouns from plural to singular and vice versa. I stop myself almost every sentence to ask, “Am I talking here about the bees (plural) or about the colony (singular)?” It drives me nuts. ┬áBut it’s this increasing awareness—that the colony is composed of thousands of individual bees operating as a single organism—which intrigues me beyond measure.
  2. Now I can’t remember the second thing that gives me fits. I’ll let you know when it rears its ugly head again, though.
  3. Which word to use—“hive” or “colony.” (But because this post has already gone on long enough, I’ll save this nomenclature challenge for next time.)
P.S. I know, Reader, that you may now wish to scrutinize my grammar and punctuation. Go for it. I’ll let you know right this second that I don’t necessarily follow the rules. Which is why I had to resign from my last job. And which is why you may notice sparse use of commas.