The pleasant older woman’s face of my first wife
I Googled on the Web this morning—a full professor now,
and expert on conflict management—makes it hard to imagine
how delicate she was at seventeen, upset by clashes
that seemed unavoidable (like the day her father
picked grass blades off her back, then slapped her).
And I’m sorry about that fistfight we once had,
though it seems so unlikely now. Still I hope
it has proven useful to her over the years,
unless she’s forgotten it entirely, a busy scholar
sought after by a battling and violent world.
So this is how the story about us ends––
both useful in our mature, productive phase—
professors of poetry and conflict management––
a kind of success story, looked at that way.
Now we can join the ranks of helpful memoirists
who sit beside the strait of their stormy lives––
decent if not exemplary heroes, each with a narrative
we hope to perfect, where the other plays at most
a supporting role. While I work on my song
of reconciliation to inexorable time, I wonder
how she thinks of our life together now.
A wasted opportunity? A narrow escape?
Does she plan to warn her students, Don't marry,
though you adore the curve of her arm
or his back?––or think it best to leave them
alone, unable to manage, like us years ago.
My sister, who never pleased our mother,
is being asked why. Why couldn’t she have behaved
“That’s what rattled you,”
my sister tells her––never having believed
her mother loved her with the aching love
all of us easily saw.
“Alone is a stone,”
my mother answers––a flair for old sayings.
But it comes out sounding condemnatory
“All your father and I ever wanted . . . ”
she continues, as if that too isn’t designed
to pierce a daughter’s heart.
who never wanted anything from us, since wanting
was my mother’s job.
“That’s just water
over the dam,” my mother says
to prove she can be disinterested
now that she’s dead.
Why did you choose to live among the Turks?”
And my sister spits back at her, “Honi soit
qui mal y pense.” And they never agree
about the Turks.
“I guess you made your bed,”
my mother says. And my sister answers,
“No use crying over spilt milk” which carries
a sting too,
since my sister never drank milk.
All of my mother’s nurturing
was the wrong flavor.
And up here
in a world I childishly believe in amongst the clouds––
even here––why can’t they just breathe
together calmly? Just breathe.
The one deciding
to let her mother embrace her
in her awkward fearful way. The other
accepting that what has come out of her
is sometimes untranslatable.
ALAN FELDMAN's latest collection is Immortality (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015). He has recent work published, or soon to appear in Southern Review, Salamander, Harvard Review, Catamaran, Antigonish Review, Miramar, Modern Poetry Quarterly, and Outlook Springs; and online in Cordite, Across the Margin, Ascent, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. He lives in Framingham, MA, and, in the summer, in Wellfleet, and offers free, weekly drop-in poetry workshops at the public libraries in those towns.