curls falling

because my mother is shrinking
tilting dizzy on her uncertain walk
across unraveling time,
my trepidation has dissipated
and she becomes the small part of myself
who shelters inside my arm.

because my mother’s bones have been leached
of their strength
her words don’t sting like pin missiles
ripping into my heart
and i have become the strength that holds us
upright.

my mother expects to die soon,
asks me to teach her
to use the computer.
the capitals, the spaces, the period, the returns
exhaust her
she drinks her tiny bottle of kahlua
and lies down —
a little woman on a big bed

i visit her once
every two years
and as i approach the visit,
my fear, my dread, grows like a black hog
chomping on the mud of our failed relationship.

this year i know the fear
is only the other side of love,
but it still chews at my entrails.

my mother is so happy to see me
that she fails to criticize me
in our first hour together.
usually, she wails about the state
of my hair, saying

let’s go get your hair cut!!!!!

you’ve roooooooooooined your hayyyyyyyer!!

i’m going to CUT your hair
while you’re sleeping!

before this visit
i spent sixty-five dollars
at the hairdresser’s.

it was all i could do

this year i bring my boyfriend with me —
he’s handsome & mannerly
creases ironed into his khakis,
a concerned, attentive expression
that absorbs the answers to his questions,
more
polite
questions
following.

we take mother to a japanese restaurant
where she sits smiling, small and quiet
buzzing with pleasure —
in the food, her daughter
in being taken out to dinner.
we drive through shadows to a recreation center,
pay three dollars apiece
to watch the big band with geriatrics
in cowboy hats & sparkling glass
jewels dancing crazy, crazy
for thinking about you . . .
crazy
for feeling so blue
mother and my boyfriend sitting
close to the band,
my brother and i playing pool in the back room.
i worry about the band blasting
my mother’s eardrums, go back
to suggest cotton, ask
if she’s okay
when she beams at me, radiant
as a young girl
“we’re wonderful!!!!!”

on this visit, i allow
three days with my mother
padded by maps and highways
all the way south,
alligators and hemmingway’s cats.
i thought the visit with my mother
would be the torment that tainted
my vacation

but i was wrong.
she was the child
i’d never had
she was my precious lost prococious
girl teetering beside me.

the rest of the vacation,
with its oceans of miscommunication,
blown expectations
tiresome tvs
was a disappointment.

after the first few hours
with my mother,
she complains about the one large sausage
curl in the middle of my forehead —
it doesn’t bother me.
she asks me to cut her hair
where it’s white in the back
where she can’t shape it.
we spread newspapers under the kitchen chair
my fingers splayed in the stretched white strands,
i snip,
the large curls falling

wendy shaffer

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