Thursday, 27 May 2021

The long summer of my mother’s dying    

by Mara Buck

She smiles. A young nurse fusses with spiderweb hair;
busy hands assuming much ado anoint the demented, yet
the smile reveals a wet sheet, revenge for all the condescension,
the humiliation of a plastic flower placed doll-like
behind a semi-comatose ear on Luau Lunch Day.

Because they print it out in black and white
does not make it so.

The coffee cup floats in space, a pinpoint of reality
in this darkened room of hope and horror and
I am shocked to note the wrinkled skin of my
forearm as my pen speeds along.

May poetry protect me from the reality
of my mother and the prancing
reindeer of memory.

My mother’s hands are thin    How many names
Her veins are thinner              Are there
Her eyes bulge                       For death.

Death comes in bed pans. A scatological
pressure sore not so innocently steals life
in inches of erosion, while soft smooth hands
of young women change bedding, thinking thoughts
of what to serve for dinner when the neon lights click out.

Only the welcoming fire bequeaths the final dignity.

Who is there but me to see the rictus, the jester’s
cap and bells that lies just beneath the smile of beatitude.

That she should live beyond her breath, beyond the carbon
of her bones, as the name of a flower, a smile in a painting,
the grace of words on a page to make the centuries wonder—
who was this? To marvel at her bird-light hand, the whisper
of her voice, the promise of her scent that hangs
in the air of her closet when the clothes are gone.
Death is not pretty. Death is not sweet.
Death does not come on little cat feet to
tidily steal us away in a warm Sandburgian fog
to somewhere over the rainbow.

We smell the intoxication of the lilies
and we heave.

* * * * *

Mara Buck writes, paints, and rants in a self-constructed hideaway in the friendly Maine woods with enough food and medications to last the duration. She studied in New York, worked there for years, and loves it passionately. She grieves for her city. Winner of The Raven Prize for non-fiction, The Scottish Arts Club Short Story Prize, two Moon Prizes for women’s writing. Other recent first places include the F. Scott Fitzgerald Poetry Prize, The Binnacle International Prize. Awarded/short-listed by the Faulkner/Wisdom Society, Hackney Awards, Balticon, Confluence, and others, with work in numerous literary magazines and print anthologies.


  1. "the grace of words on a page to make the centuries wonder—
    who was this?"

    1. Thanks, Matt. You always go to the heart of the matter.

  2. Stunning and perfect. Bravo. It sings and stings.

    1. Thanks so much. What a great comment!