I never really wrote a poem for my mother. In fact I’ve never been much good at occasional poetry–it requires a sort of deliberate intention I can seldom bring to my writing table. But my earliest awareness of the thing called poetry is in her voice. I remember the day she read Eugene Field’s “Little Boy Blue” to me and then spent the next hour searching through One Hundred & One Famous Poems and Harper’s Anthology to assuage my tears. I must have been all of five. I still have those two books on my shelf.
So this is probably the nearest thing I have to a poem for mother’s day. Barbara Hammond Lewis, if you’re up there listening, this one’s for you:
Pike’s Peak, May 1997
Consider a twenty-four inch cogged wheel,
case-hardened, fifteen deep teeth, slightly
rounded. The whole five inches thick but
formed in two parts as if
split against the axis—one half
rotated twelve degrees—so that,
engaging the split rack
the wheel maintains its grip, one cog
always fully inserted.
The vibration is not surprising.
High meadow and summit attainable
in nearly direct line. (From my parents’ deck,
seen through binoculars, the cograil path
is nearly invisible.)
So we ascend,
rattling, hauled upward,
held fast to a steel chord.
Always I assumed that one day
I would shoulder a pack,
and walk up here alone, was certain, in fact
that I would ultimately be absorbed
into these mountains, travelling light,
living off the land.
I saw myself in a photograph
just above treeline, boots trail-scuffed,
backpack and shoulder, worn
to each other’s shape, permanent sunsquint
under a weatherbeaten hat.
I somehow didn’t understand
that you must surrender at least
to climb alone
to this altitude
Yesterday we brought mother home
with sixty feet of plastic tube,
the definition of her freedom,
coiled in a plastic bag.
Carefully we paced distances,
bed to bathroom
bathroom to closet, closet to kitchen, the stove
the sink, her easy chair,
the television, and at the full extent of hose,
the window’s wide view of mountains.
(She would insist, after all, that the view
is the reason for all of it, that at sea level
she would find sufficient breath.)
We made for her a sort of map,
left side of the couch, right
of kitchen counter, always return
the same way you came, watch
always for kinks.
From Manitou Springs
upward into wood and rock and air and light
we are hauled, knee to knee
with other tourists, staring
into the quick glimpsed spaces of imagined wilderness
until our eyes burn.
The woods fall away now.
We are inside a cloud
that is lined with gravel
and thin spikes of grass.
What happens to space
at this altitude? Distance
is recalculated — some warp of time or gravity.
Over the brim of this meadow
the lower world
is light years distant.
I no longer believe
I could live on rainwater and stones,
cannot pretend even
that any forseeable future
contains this rarefied wealth of landscape.
At summit house
outside the gift shop
I drop a quarter in a binocular turret
and try to glimpse backward
down the mountain, try to find
the spec that would be
my parent’s house, that window
where I am certain
my mother is standing now
at the full extent of her tether
(from This Garden, (c)2011 by Dan Lewis)