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November 2011

Burt Kimmelman's poem "Taking Dinner to My Mother" served as our model for this month's writing prompt.

The poem marks a point in the poet's relationship with his mother just before she died. The poem's movement is from "mother sits on the edge of her bed", to a cafe where "a new mother fed her infant daughter", and finally to his own daughter, the granddaughter, who "met a boy for a moment in a flea market, who is now a first love."

For this month's writing prompt, we asked that poets try writing a poem about caring for someone old, or sick, or dying. But don't write an elegy.

Celebrate the life, the ritual, and the connections that caring for someone has to other parts of life.

The line between these two types of poems is easy to cross.

For this prompt, we have linked a group of poems in the accompanying blog post for this prompt that goes into more detail and would be good to read. They range from elegies, to two more complementary poems from Kimmelman, and a few poems that come close to that line. There are also links to hear Burt read all three poems from the blog. (I always think that hearing the poem read adds another dimension to understanding it on the page.)


My mother bent to his knee to wash
and dress the dangling wound three times
a day, pushed the nurses away,
and would not sleep in their marital bed
until he returned. When he came home,
he thumped his way up the stairs
on the seat of his pants just to lie
beside her again. As she knelt before him
to wrap, rewrap the bandages
like a goddess who shields her injured son,
sometimes his hand would come to rest
on her hair, and she would let it stay.
He did not say thank you, rather,
allowed the exquisite pleasure of her care,
as I watched, a child peeking into my parents'
bedroom to learn how love is made.

Alissa Pecora


Suddenly a tune half-heard
around the curl of a corner
half-remembered. Mum leans forward
out of the armchair. Distant bells,

a Crosby song, something whistled
once in a dark street in the rain?
The story ends; she dropped it somewhere,
cracked it, missed the point,

some crucial phrase that ran
into the fog of her once-hearing.
Or slipped, maybe, beneath the tread
of that tune, half heard.

Dick Jones


Mem said she wanted to live.
To make it through, "One Last Summer."
She held on 'til the bitter end. Her heartbeat would
Go UP!
When we spoke to her.
We were saying, "Hang on Mem, Mom....he is coming."
Her oldest son was rushing to say goodbye.
He made it.

But summer did not.
Neither did her 75th birthday and the party we planned.
She missed it by only three days.
The collages of memories
Of her life that I made for her,
Were at her funeral instead.

She told me she loved them
I swear she did.
Just like I swear she chose to spend her last day
With me.
What a great day.
She looked...more happy than usual.
She smiled...more often than usual.
We shopped. She picked out her funeral outfit.
She didn't tell me that was what it was for.
But, we knew what it was.

In her last few years, which she spent after her husband died,
she found herself.
With us.
In learning to balance a checkbook.
And she smiled without recourse.
And she loved who and how she chose.
She became a teacher rather than a student.

She was vibrant. She was not stupid like they said.
She was caring and giving.
Funny and brass.
Dysfunctional. Functionally.
She had a bright spirit, always quelled.
That was sad. It shouldn't have been.
So Mem Here I am. I won't let it happen to me.
We are the same.

Julie Lynn Cardinal


She rises early in the morning to both
Bathe and dress her husband
Once cleaned and freshly clothed
My great grandfather is then placed
Into his wheelchair

He sits in his favorite spot
By the window
And stares into the daylight
While his wife prepares breakfast

After breakfast he waits
For his ride to arrive and
Drop him off at the senior center
It arrives promptly

He with assistance of his wife
Quickly put on his hat and coat
Off he goes for the day

She then sits awhile to rest her legs
Around noon she
Comes over to the bottom of the steps and yells
For me to come downstairs
And go to the store

I come quickly
While at the store I pick up
Two rolls and a pepsi

Lunch is served
When I return
My great grandmother and I sit
To watch soap operas until about three

He arrives home
Off with his hat and coat
And over to his favorite spot
By the window

Around four thirty his wife goes
To prepare dinner
Pot roast, potatoes, carrots
And hot rolls
The evening comes to a close

My great grandfather is again
Bathed and placed in bed for the evening
His wife will be not too far behind

Lakia Montgomery


"Say hi to your grandmother." she said,
I barely remembered her smell.
"We should go see her, she won't live forever."
The words were sad, I could tell.
We spoke on the phone, miles between us.
She laughed,
Of course I was being a good boy!
I laughed,
There's nothing in the world
I'd like to do more
than visit her.

My mom's mother,
had ten kids,
My mother's mom,
couldn't get out of bed.
All the delivering took its toll.
But being the boss is what she does.
Not leaving anything to chance, she lives.

Strong woman raised a strong mother, mine,
I curiously wonder
if being a girl would make me stronger.

Bert Turral

(for pop)

December stumbles in
white and swollen with winter,
covers the remains of
summer and fall. i make my
way into the lobby of logan manor,
chat with the lonely and the
abandoned. sign the guestbook.

turning the corner, i am
struck with the staleness of
overcooked food and old age.
the drone of the oppressed
hovers over me like a bird of prey.
i wonder if my presence will
bewilder you today,
if you will grab at the brown
paper bag containing the goodies.
if you will know who i am
or at least be pleased that the
lady who has come to visit
bears gifts of soprasade and
hershey bars..

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


In the last month you ask me a favor.
Will I brush your hair when you have passed?
You seem to want to greet whatever comes
looking your best. I give my promise.
Each day when I come home, I offer
to brush your hair, but you say no,
maintaining the independence
you have always shown.
Later, in hospice, I no longer ask.
I hold your hands, rubbing lotion in,
skin so fragile, like a butterfly wing.
It is time now to make the last ablutions.
I clean your face and brush your hair,
your sleeping eyes flicker
under paper-thin lids, pale blue veins
tracing their course across them.
I imagine your mother tenderly holding you,
stroking your cheek, watching you dream
in her arms--her newborn daughter
with the milky breath.
Ninety-one years separate us, your two watchers.
One joyously bringing you into the world,
the other sitting silently in the dim-lit room,
keeping watch over you through the night.

Mary Kendall


The diagnosis of brother’s rare sarcoma
sparks her into a frenzy of research
every cell bent on sleuthing
knowing, understanding the enemy.

The answering machine and no call back
when we ring the farm likely means
more medical trips

(later photos of him
in radioactive quarantine
show her, like a prison wife
on the other side of the window)

or a vacation to the east coast
or a weekend at a folk festival
or in the mountains skiing.

She is behind this compression
of a premature retirement
into the months, weeks, days…

all the while keeping track of his meds
his appointments, his symptoms
his pains, being a pill herself
when the doctors aren’t forthcoming.

We come to visit
when things have progressed suddenly
to a painful stay in palliative care.

She directs the traffic
to and from his room
and when everyone else is seated

and she has given him ice chips
adjusted his nasal tube
and tidied his bedside tray

jumps up to sit beside him
on the hospital bed
but like a bird
soon flits away again

though sometimes her bird-bright
blue eyes are rimmed with red
and swim in teary
beds of their own.

Violet Nesdoly


The sky’s a deep beautiful blue,
the landscape of Sharon Gardens
Cemetery in Valhalla
NY stark
white with recent snow… it’s
Monday Feb. 2nd, just enough
above freezing
to make it muddy where
we walk, where
I walk, musing
on the coordination it takes
to be, at best, ambivalent
in the company
of estranged family and yet
put one foot
before the other while simultaneously
editing this poem, coming up on
the plot in which my
mother is to be buried… the same
plot in which my final act of 53 years
of childhood is, to peer
with curiosity into the hole and note,
with remnant adolescent innocence
the rectangle’s devoid of any real
shadow, filled with light; it being
noon, the sun directly
overhead my mother’s
son, illuminates him
going through the motions of
letting go the
picture of ground water seeping
into the bed, how it reflects off
the puddles, makes
dancing dappled patterns
on the walls of her
grave; I’ve my camera with me…
yeah, even
here I consider the negative;
mom would understand, but
the waking nightmare quality of this
image, latent in
immediate reality, will be for me,
archival in eternity… and so make
the aesthetic
decision to go, only so far as this poem.

Andrew R Cohen


He taught me
to find love in the fruit of the sea.
In the flesh of mussels,
spread open,
before sucking them down.

He taught me
to find love on a fruit tree.
in a split open fresh fig.
with sweet juices.

He's the oldest feather,
A dried fig, at best
But my father's father,

Could find love
in the tears of his oldest son.

Salvatore Tummolillo


The house still dark. I find her
standing at the door as if not knowing

to leave or stay.
I hold her collar, steady her across
slick tile. Out the door, she looks back
for me, then finds a patch of grass.

How many times I’ve followed her
through the dark,
searching for a lost child, an old man
wandering from his life and mind.

She does her business, then stands
looking off beyond pasture, beyond

this familiar dark.
I stroke her coat – old dull dog-hair,
shiver of once-muscled flanks;
undercoat soft as a puppy’s.

She breathes out slowly.
Soon she’ll be asleep.
I tell her,
if she hears a Master calling,

she should go.
I’ll find her on the other side.

Taylor Graham


It was her breast I suckled on
Her lap that I gladly sat upon
Twas her who banished all my fears
The one who wiped away my tears

Taught me right from wrong as a lad
Made us a loving family with my dad
Washed, fed us and dressed us well
If things went wrong she didn't yell

Made time for a game or to read us a book
Sometimes she would let us help her cook
Many good cooks around but there is no other
Who compares with the cooking of my mother

Home cooked meals are impossible to beat
More mum puts on the plate, more you eat
Whether she cooks cakes, fish, lamb or game
There is no one around who can cook the same

For years she fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner
I enjoyed every meal because each was a winner
I loved my meat, roasts and even my veggies too
Nothing was better than mums three day old stew

Mum and dad worked hard and we were never wealthy
Thanks to mums cooking we grew up strong and healthy
Christmas time was fun, lots of food and plenty of cheer
Women eating pudding and custard, men drinking a beer

Sadly though, all this will soon be a thing of the past
Time goes by, nothing good in the world can ever last
Mums getting older now, slowing down a bit more each day
Been about four years now since dear old dad passed away

She won't be here forever, one day she will go to her maker
Hope its a few years yet though, before the angels take her
I'm so busy these days, wish I had more to go and see her
Really miss dear old mum, her kitchen and delightful aroma

Never able to thank mum enough for being so loving and kind
As we get older we wish some of the years we could unwind
When she gets old and frail and needs to depend on another
I'll enjoy preparing, cooking and taking dinner to my mother

Stanley G Billing


He was too wise for Polonius,
My dad, who also knew that the “If” stuff
Only leads to disappointment and resentment on both sides.

But, when he was ninety and hospitalized,
And I had just returned him to his bed after cleaning him,
As I pulled him by his thin shoulders higher up on his pillow,

He whispered, “Turn on that T V, will you?”
A local reporter with a disturbingly handsome face
Was smiling the story of a local man who had a viral song on YouTube
Singing about pacemakers in love.

“Not that. You have to give up on the news.
“Everything they say is as worthless as
“The writing on a men’s room wall.”
He turned towards me, his eyes too tired to blink.
“Look for something else.”

I flipped through the channels until the face of beautiful woman stopped me.
It was one of those celebrity exposes,
In which the ex- model-wife of a wealthy older man
Was weeping that she had no idea that her husband’s money
Had been amassed through selling forged Warhol paintings;
That his going to prison was just the beginning of her troubles,
Since the antiques she had spent a fortune on,
Had all turned out to be fakes.
She cried how it wasn’t fair.

“O, get that off.
“Whining makes everybody ugly.
“I want to watch something like I watched last night,
“Though,” he snickered, through shallow breaths.
“It could have been the drugs.
“A circle of old men were bragging how tough they were,
“Each betting who would wait the longest before calling 911
“If he ever suffered a heart attack.”
He added wearily, “I guess the only real men are dead.”

With the back of his right wrist,
He brushed wet strands of white hair from his closing eyes.
Then he took a raspy breath,

“What would you like me to do?” I asked.
“Just turn on the Catholic channel
“So I can sleep.”

Ron Yazinski