Rockaway Beach, 2001
It is early for the beach, but I love the morning air
before it smothers,
when it smells like sheets dried on Mama’s clothesline.
He’s still sleeping across the street
in the sixth floor apartment
and I’m wide awake,
watching cirrostratus spiders
chase the sky.
I cling to this quiet before the crowd comes,
sinking into sand and ocean
at the edge of the world.
The ululating cry of a hungry seagull echoes,
relentless, like the folding waves
that tuck themselves against the Atlantic coast.
The rising sun skips like shale over water
and onto my hand, pausing to admire itself
in the gold band around my finger.
Looking back, the apartment is barely visible,
and I wonder how we managed to get so far apart.
I walk on, following a trail of slivered shells
tossed with a billion crumbled earths.
– Kathryn Cody
We drove to Texas the summer just before I started to wear make-up.
It was an 18-hour drive from Kentucky
on a road dug into the South’s red earth,
littered with dead armadillos.
They’re just like possum, my dad told me.
Polecats, we called them.
I watched the brown spots shrinking through the back window,
counting carcasses to mark time.
It would have been nice if he’d asked me to be his co-pilot,
given me the map so that I could follow along.
He did that once, when we were driving back from Aunt Ethel’s,
and the whole way, we talked about our dream house.
He let me lean forward, between the front seats,
and we planned every inch of that farm.
He was even going to let me have chickens.
On that trip, he didn’t mind that I got bar-b-q chips
all over the backseat of his new Ford Pinto.
In Texas, there were no dream houses—
only burning days of scorpions and storms.
We stayed with Aunt Naomi, Mom’s sister.
He warned me about Uncle Paul’s lesbian sister.
“Don’t go anywhere alone with her.”
And as an afterthought, “Stay away from the Mexicans, too.”
From the back seat, I could see him
staring at the road ahead;
I was subdued by his strange topography,
his face full of wrinkled biases
and notions carved deep.
– Kathryn Cody
I was marked at birth on my left breast
with a curious brown spot,
smeared carefully across soft tissue.
Fingers find it often in the dark,
rubbing over its caked surface
as if the right touch will reveal some
ancient Pangean secret.
I seem to remember standing on the edge of Carolina,
stretching for something thrown
with tectonic force
just out of my reach.
Your hand found me,
searing recognition into flesh
to be born again
when my grip was strong.
— Kathryn Cody
My parents took care of my grandparents for many years. Later, I would also care for my own parents. (You can see an article I wrote for this at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-02-2011/caregiving_lessons.html )
This poem was based on memories of watching my parents age, as they cared for my mother’s parents. Looking back, I see so much of my mother, in her mother.
Blessings to Caregivers everywhere.
My mother rises early—slower, each year.
The marriage of pain and cold bleaches her limbs;
her hands crackle and twist.
She moves like a sluggish engine,
eases stiff arms into the sleeves of a pink housecoat.
Its soft fleece casts a blurry glow on her face,
tendering the lines that have settled in for winter.
She sits at the kitchen table,
her hands cupped around a mug of coffee.
Before the first sip, the metallic clunk
of my grandmother’s walker comes from the hallway,
a bitter catalyst, forcing my mother to the bedroom to dress—quietly,
so as not to disturb Dad.
Her parents are waiting at the table,
hungry for their oatmeal and toast.
Grandma announces that someone should
clean up the shit Grandpa left on the toilet.
He eats laxatives like candy, afraid to keep anything inside him,
for fear it will fester and somehow keep him out of heaven.
My mother cleans it up every morning,
doesn’t stop until everyone and everything in the house is fed, warm and clean.
My father is still sleeping.
His legs have been bothering him more and more,
the extra work of ordering their medicine,
doctors’ appointments, and meaningless errands put
stress on a heart already tired.
After their breakfast, they’ll shuffle and slide into the living room,
stare at the floor for a while, mumble about their latest hallucinations,
before making their way back to their room to watch golf and basketball,
even though grandpa can’t see well and hears worse,
and my grandmother is still somewhere back on Paw’s creek,
living in another time.
Today she’s 22 and picking beans, she tells them.
She talks about her Poppy all the time,
tells us he’s on his way home.
She watches the door like a schoolgirl
before giving up and staring at the floor again.
Grandpa just holds his Bible, his 97-year-old fingers
rough on the delicate pages.
He can’t see the words but he stares at it,
holds it close and then asks my dad for a gun. He is always afraid.
At night, my mother and father tuck them in,
give them the last round of pills and eye drops,
deliver hot tea and make sure
granny isn’t wearing her clothes to bed again.
She usually does and then sulks when they put a gown on her.
Looking back from the doorway to their bedroom,
mom and dad see them huddling in their bed together,
and quickly turn off the light.
Back down the hall, my mother slips the housecoat back on,
sits with a new cup of coffee and my father at the kitchen table.
It’s dark again, already.