Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Mother: Iris Luckenbill Fitzgerald - 2/8/07 - 1/21/89


On May 11, nineteen thirty-four,
you and Dad bought a house
in a small town in Indiana.
On the Mother's Day that followed
he planted a lilac bush. Perhaps
he said, "Happy Mother's Day!"
Then, in forty-nine, he died on you.


One summer's day in seventy-two --
you were sixty-five and I was thirty-two --
you asked if I'd prune the lilac.
I went out back to look.
Twelve-, fourteen-feet tall.
Some drooping,
almost laying flat on the ground;
others violating the garden's space.
I went uptown and returned with
a brand-new saw.
You squinted into
a bright afternoon, shading,
with a saluting hand,
your eyes.
I sawed away.
"This one too, don't you think?"
you'd say.
Trying to sound patient I said,
"It's up to you,
just tell me what you want me to do."


Twenty years ago we chose
a lilac dress for you.
On an amazingly warm January day
my five brothers and I bore you to your grave.
Our three sisters looked on and cried.
The priest intoned some intonations.
He sprinkled water onto the casket
with an aspergillum.
And then it was done.
I did not want to leave you there,
did not want to turn and go.
I did though,
and as I did I saw
the gravediggers across the way;
they were leaning against the back of a pickup truck,
waiting for the seventy of us to go.
They had work to do.


Here's what's come to mind today:
Your pies were the world's best;
they were as perfect as T.S. Eliot's poems,
and no one else's crust comes close.
"Don't work the dough too much," you'd instruct.
Only you, though, seemed to know
how much is too much.
And what I wouldn't give for one of your
from-scratch chocolate cakes with that icing
that was flavored with stale coffee.
And I'd love some of your fried chicken;
I can see you prepping it,
shaking it in a brown paper bag
into which you'd put flour and seasonings.
And I think of your gardens,
your year-after-year-after-year gardens,
your straight and disciplined rows of onions,
of lettuce, of beans and tomatoes and corn.
And I think of your hair, always in a bun,
except when it was being washed or dried --
dried sometimes in the summer sun.


The house ended up in my name.
A few years ago I sold it to my brother Jim.
We made a deal: 5 lump sums, 5 annual payments.
He asked, "What day to you want them payments due?"
"Doesn't matter to me," I said to him.
"How's about we make 'em due on the
eighth of February ...
that way we'll never forget."


The lilac bush is still there.
I still have that saw, too, by the way;
it's a good one.


I think this poem could use some pruning.
Some of my lines, I sense, are drooping,
some laying almost flat on the ground.
"This one, too, don't you think?"
I might say to myself.
But no ... enough for today.
I've recorded it in this notebook;
I'm putting it on the shelf.


  1. Thanks George, good memories. G

  2. 'n your mama hugs you from the universe...

  3. Chinese has a phrase to describe a beautiful narration or talking as 娓娓(two-character in a phrase/word), which visually stands for means 女 female+ 尾 tail, and connotates "beautiful, smoothe, pleasant", referring to the ease and elegance of narrating. This piece reads like that.