She always asks for a poem.
Christmas? Poem. Birthday? Poem. Special event? Poem. “Thumbs up” is her phrase of choice nowadays, when I tell her about the new job, or new write-up, or new writing gig, that my art lives, is moaning on someone’s Facebook, or Medium feed, on their Blavity homepage. She doesn’t know the lingo. She doesn’t have a smartphone. I still need to show her how to retrieve photo messages from her flip phone. Everything internet based is still “email” to her. She has never owned a computer. Ever. She keeps all phone numbers in an address book she’s had since Alexander Graham Bell gave it to her. She pays all her bills by check. She has never eaten a taco. Like, won’t even try it. She is a creature of habit, a Cancer/Gemini cusp. She takes trips to Pennsylvania with friends to see chitlin circuit stage shows. She heads to Co-Op City for the retiree brunch once a year. She does not live in Co-Op City. She has never lived in Co-Op city. There is a Co-op apartment in the Bronx, however, that she has had her eyes on. One day, soon.
She is from Dominica. She was raised in Calibishie. She finds it hard to go back home. Because, what is a home that is no longer a physical place, but ashes, ashes and memories and soil for it to lay under, sun cooking and baking the past? What do you do with the stains of loss? She still misses her mother, every day. Her father, too. And, her sister. She went to Baton Rouge for Christmas and spent it with Aunty Rhona. Christmas Eve since pre-Crack Regan era, has been held on Creston Ave., with gifts strewn under mismatched Christmas lights, a faux tree far removed since the ex-husband who used to put the tree up became a shell of himself. So, gifts would be hidden in her closet, packaging still intact, bags from Caldor’s or Alexander’s or Woolworth tucked under Buster Brown boxes. But, not this year. This year was Texas for me and a newborn, and new celebrations. But, nothing can ever replace the feeling of seeing deep sea-diving G.I. Joe Flint tucked in that plastic bag, waiting to be played with. She created that scene.
She speaks Patois. It sounds beautiful. It is feather light, yellow hue, pigment brown, a bevy of melodies strung together, languages of street meeting bourgeoisie fancy, caviar meets curried goat and rice and peas. She cooks on holidays, only. Her diet is special now. She takes too many medications now. She is always rotating the stiff in her shoulder now, sliding that blood around those muscles back and forth. She is always in some doctor’s office now — her eyes, her shoulder, her heart. She drinks a wine called “Sweet Bitch”. She watches Joel Osteen every Sunday. She loves Joel Osteen. She loves her grand kids, Two and a Half Men, and this Optimum Cable channel called Decade that plays reruns of classic t.v shows. I learned recently she loved Tarzan. I also learned recently that she loved Prince. She still teaches me things. She has tea every night before bed. She hates her picture being taken. Her smile reads “do not make me do this” every time.
She would shower me with stories about hospitals and patients and scrubbing, sharing the secrets of children who did not have much, and would allow me the chance to give them toys, trinkets, or whatever we had too much of. We did not have much either, but if we had more, we would let go of whatever remained after we received what was needed. She gave us, my siblings, what we needed. She paid for my summer trips to Indiana and Louisiana and the one time I packed for Florida.That one time was enough, too much dad time for me, maybe. She held up my dreams before I knew what dreams were, what mine could do, what they could be. She told me to reach for the moon. She tells me to reach for the moon. She prays to saints. She keeps holy water near. Told me once there was a little girl ghost in the apartment. She told me this because one day I asked “Who are you talking to?”, me asking because all I could see were two shadows, and she answered me, with matter of fact on her face “a ghost”. She is almost always matter of fact. I do not like absolutes, but she is absolute.
I pray to her, for her. It is 12:56 AM and my mother, Linda Daniels, has turned 70 years of age. This is a milestone. She is a milestone. We do a collective ask of where do years go, how do they fly? What is their sense of direction once they leave you? How do they get to their home safely, the years? Because the numbers will go up until they no longer can, until they stop. Then, what? What to do with that sort of spirit? Take the chalk lining her bones, draw out the world from them, and pass it on to her offspring. She, the water that is the sky, is all in her, I trust. Her knees jerk when rain falls. She cleans up well. She cleaned others for over 20 years. She likes crossword puzzles, now. She loves Family Feud. Shows like The Voice, American Idol, anything Tyler Perry. Her favorite chant when I was a drama major in high school was “take it to Broadway!” She once told me she sent all of her children’s photos to GQ Magazine, and was upset that they did not select any of us. She is fire and Kilimanjaro, heaven and skyscraper, oak tree and cherry tomato seed.
Love your parents. Let them know they are loved. Be an ear, or a voice, for them. Give them your hands, your tongue. Write them a poem, sing with them. Hug them. Dance with them, often. Watch them dance. Listen to them. Walk with them. Every skin pass is a chance to pass some of Linda’s air to my 7 month old daughter. I want whatever has been shed in Linda T. to be saved, to be shared. She will not go online to read this, so I will print it out, and sit next to her, her with her cute reading glasses and slippers, and I will watch her read my words, like in elementary school when I wrote for the school paper. Because she likes to read the things I write. She will read it aloud, low whisper breath. And, I will listen.