When I told my mother the joke—the new kid
at college, who asked where the library’s at,
and the sophomore who said, "At Yale, we do not
end our sentences with prepositions,"
whereupon the frosh said, "Oh,
I beg your pardon, where’s the library
at, asshole," she shrieked with delight.
"’Asshole,’" she murmured fondly. She’s become
so fresh, rinsed with sweetness, as if she is
music, the strings especially high and bright.
She says it and sighs with contentment, as if she has
finally talked back to her own mother.
Or maybe it is the closest she has come,
for a while, to the rich, animal life
she lived with her second husband—now
I can see that of course she touched him everywhere,
as lovers do. She touched me there,
you know, courteously, with oil
like myrrh; soon after she had given me life
she gave me pleasure, which gave her pleasure,
maybe it felt to her fingertip like the
complex, clean knot of her Firegirls
tie-clasp. She seems, these days, like a very
human goddess. I do not want her
to die. This feels like a new not-want,
a shalt-not-want not-want. As soon as I
dared, around fifty, I called her, to myself,
the A-word. And yet, now, if she goes,
when she goes, to me it is like the departure of a
whole small species of singing bird from the earth.