Thursday, November 6, 2008

If You're Lucky

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
and she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

"Lucky" by Tony Hoagland from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998.


May we be lucky enough to have our hearts broken open by love for our enemies, whoever they are.


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful poem. He's absolutely on the money - there is a moment when you realize you've become the parent, and your parent has become the child, and if you're not careful, that shift in power can make you bossy and a little cruel (been there, done that...)

What a great line about the common grace of ice-cream!

Keep 'em coming, Pentimento.



Pentimento said...

Speaking of enemies, Otepoti, have a look at this. It's mighty inspiring.

(Hat tip to Maclin Horton)