For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Sixteen years old
Doing my chores
On a summer afternoon
With the window opened
Out over the rolling hills
Of Southern York County
Desmond Dekker sings to me
On the stereo for company
I can hear the world waiting
In the soundwaves
Making their way down the street
Reaching escape velocity
On their way out out
Of my lonely little town
I will make it out one day too

Scrape the dried Elmer’s glue
Off the sink with a smile
Check the stiffness of my hair
In the mirror for the tenth time
Spiked towards the sky
Like a middle finger aimed at every sideways eye

My mother sticks her head in the door
“Oh! I like this song!
I remember when it was on the radio”
Back when I was young
She hums along
With a rare smile
Cracking across her face
Remembering a life
Thirty years gone

All the sudden
My mother is no longer
The narcissistic monster
Living as a prisoner
To her suffering
Tethered to this decrepit house
Raising a selfish afterbirth
Already racing for a world
With no room for her in it

I see you as you were, momma
Young and full of hope once
Summer of ’68 in the desert
With the radio on
A glint of moonlight
Catching in your smile
Your broken home caught
In the reflection of
A rearview mirror
With good things on the road
Ahead of you

Raised ducking for cover
Seeking shelter from gathering clouds
And the chill winds
Blowing ill from a cold war
Summer of ’68
With power’s proxies catching a spark
From fires lit before you were ever born
Your older brothers
Jump from from iron birds
And into the firestorm
With not a reason why
But to do and stay alive
One took a bullet
To the thigh
And never quite got right
The other made it home
And never talked about
The War Again in his life

You grew.

Into the mother
I once knew
Tiny and sometimes cruel, filling the world
Smart and sharp
With a quick wit
And the bitterness lingering
Below the surface to match it

You taught me well
How to stand up for myself
To everyone save
For you
You taught me to lock
All the doors at night
Hide my heart
Hide my light

I see you there sometimes
Out there in the shadows
Lonely and uncertain
Where I am sixteen years old, steel-toes
Stomping up the stairs
To the sound of Desmond on the Stereo
Singing for every mouth to be fed
And waiting for the war’s end
Where all our noble failures born
From the best of intentions are forgiven

I see you now, in the lateness of the hour
The mother who
Did the best she could
With the mess and neglect
And violence
She was given
Spent a life running
Looking for the calm
After the storm
Looking for her son
Without seeing the one she bore

I will meet you there
When sun finally breaks through the thunderheads
Where Desmond Dekker is always singing
For every mouth to be fed
Holy forgiveness
And every war’s end

Desmond Dekker

Downpour and Drought.

You were not the first person I ever loved
Even though I always say how
Love is just another word people say
Spoken too lightly, spoken too often, and too soon
Love is just a word that I cannot bring myself to say

But I loved you, and how when you walked into a room
All the pressure would drop right out of
My stomach and into a pile of nerves on the floor
Just like the pressure drop in the air filling this town
The moment before a summer storm

You once told me something like I was ice water roaring
Down a mountain, and you were my gorge
I wish I had told you how you were the downpour
Drenching my years of dry rot and drought
How you were every tender moment
I forced myself to do without

You loved me as you found me, overdosing on darkness
Choking on the very moment when forever came crashing in
When all hell came home to call
Loosing every last demon, pushing through tired skin
Pressing lifeless lips to taste anxiety’s biter kiss

In all that years after this one:

I will mourn neither one of us learning a thing

About how to be gentle, or how to keep loving
When all the weight of distrust and trauma
Sets in, and leaden absences send us sinking
All hands on deck, straight to the bottom

It’s a short story, with a dismal ending
The same tired tale told again and again
Growing even more worn with each telling
Written on repeat, until the ink runs out of our pens
Longing for how we could have been everything

Instead of all this time wasted
Lives short lived, and far too full of bitterness
Our years spent in silent regret
Because we never learned a thing about gentleness
And filled our listless lives with beautiful broken things instead