by George Bilgere
When the guy in the dark suit
Asks me if I want to see my mother
As she lies in the back room, waiting,
I remember her, for some reason,
In a white swimsuit, on a yellow towel
On the sand at Crystal Lake,
Pregnant with my sister,
Waiting for me to finish examining
The sleek fuselage of a minnow,
The first dead thing I had ever seen,
Before we went back to the cottage for lunch.
I remember her waiting up for my father
To come home from God knows where
In a yellow cab at 2:00 AM
And waiting for me in the school parking lot
In our old blue station wagon
When whatever it was I was practicing for
Ran late. I remember her, shoulders thrown back,
Waiting in the unemployment line, waiting
For me to call, waiting for the sweet release
In the second glass of wine
After a long day working at the convalescent hospital
Where everyone was waiting to die.
And I remember her waiting for me
At the airport when I got back from Japan,
Waiting for everything to be all right,
Waiting for her biopsy results.
But when the guy in the dark suit
Asks if I would like to go back
And be with her in that room where she lies
Waiting to be cremated I say No
Thank you, and turn and walk out
Onto the sunny street to join the crowd
Hustling down the sidewalk
And I look up at the beautiful
White clouds suspended above the city,
Leaving her in that room to wait alone,
For which I will not be forgiven.
This poem first appeared in The Missouri Review.
What the writer says about the poem: I suppose “Waiting” falls into that category of poems inspired by the perpetual guilt experienced by poets and pretty much the rest of human kind over the fact that once our parents are gone it’s too late to ever quite make things right with them. If only I’d done this, said that, while there was still time. Maybe all such poems are rituals of expiation, tiny confessional booths from which we emerge feeling slightly better. One problem with life–with the whole set up–is that you can’t go back and change things. Who came up with such a lousy system? Worse, the only person who can really forgive us our trespasses is, of course, us. And we can be so hard on ourselves, which is the price of honesty. So, being human, we write a poem or a song, have a glass of wine, and hope things get better. More about George Bilgere.