My parents worshipped at the altar
of the present, each moment
an opportunity for bickering,
for one of them, in their elaborate game
of cat-and-mouse—Didn’t you say
it was going to rain today?
Who put the salt and pepper here,
it’s gone in the cabinet above the stove
for sixty years—to gain a slight advantage.
They were entertaining, their fights
like tickets to the Amusement Park
we could never afford.
My father, who liked wordplay,
said they were keeping things fresh.
They said good morning
in myriad phrases—the eggs are dry,
you burnt the English muffing again,
where did you put my pills?
That got the morning going like the cuckoo
popping out of the Black Forest
kitchen clock to jeeringly announce
the hour that was an hour too late,
each blaming the other for oversleeping.
It was, I guess, in its sad, crazy
destructive way, a form of communication.
My brothers and I never understood
their day-long bickering, nor that
nagging devotion to each other,
one of them unfailingly present
at the others’ bedside in sickness.
They never complained about money,
lived happily by the house rule of enough,
as in whatever we have is enough,
yet seemed always to be in need
of something that wasn’t to be had—
something intangible they wanted
to hold with their hands, or be
able to say with the fluency of words
which never came, or came
garbled and incompletely, or twisted
whatever they were looking for
into another insult.
Their bickering grew less playful,
more cat batting a half-dead mouse
back and forth between its paws,
as they tried to ward off
the clock-tick of dying’s boredom.
They certainly kept things fresh,
the freedom of destruction, I guess,
better than some quiet descent
into death. And so, dear parents, I toast you,
toast all those words volleyed back and forth,
the two of you filled with some great need
that could never be fully met,
true believers in all that might be
that never was, hopeless
romantics to the bitter end.
The author’s work can be found in the volume, Only So Far.
Think about how the poem made you feel. Does this parental dynamic ring at all true to your experience? Do you ever catch yourself wondering why certain people stay together – how their incompatibility could possibly be better than being alone?
May you live out another beautiful poem in the collection of your life today, and we’ll see you again tomorrow.