News from Mulligan Hollow for My Mother in a Memory Care Unit in Waukesha, Wisconsin
An early spring in a year without much winter.
Here in the mountains, I do what I do most Aprils:
stumble up the stones of the hollow, trailing a thin line
of water where fish have been trapped for millennia.
To the east, where the cities have quieted along the coast,
I think of friends and family, some already sickened
by this virus, some already burned to ash
to save others from infection.
Where the sun shines on the southern slope
spring beauties pour a delicate fragrance
into a pink teacup of flowers, like my grandmother’s
china, honey and lemon stirred in boiling water.
In the morning, when my mother talks
from four states away, the phone shakes in her hand,
voice fading, then rising, memory like snowmelt’s
tongue, eroding the bank of long ago.
She asks when I can visit, repeating the question
after I’ve just answered. I think I might tell her
about the sickness, like the summer she was seven,
hidden in the house away from other children,
her family worried about polio.
Instead I begin a story of these native fish, trout speckled
with reds and blues, males with tangerine bellies
from November’s spawn, festive as the costume
jewelry she wore when she was young.
To calm myself, I count the backs of fish waving
in the shallows, pectoral fins balancing in the current.
I’ve forgotten most of the prayers my mother taught me.
But I’ll ask for mercy, for all we’ve done to this earth
and each other, for the ways we’ve begun to care
as those we love die.
When all the trees were cut the first time,
and later when the most precious skin on the mountain
was stripped for coal, these trout should have perished.
Now the water’s the color of rust, yet somehow they persist.
Like my mother’s faith, the fact she still recognizes my voice
and remembers who I am.
This afternoon I found in a crease near the ridge
the first red trillium, flower without nectar
pollinated by carrion flies and beetles. My mother calls it
God’s flower because the petals and leaves come in threes,
a prayer we can drink with our eyes.