My mother would like the California Delta. She didn’t learn to drive until her early 40’s. Once she did, she dragged whatever kids she could to every junk store, country cafe, and cemetery she could reach with a half tank of gas. At the time, I didn’t understand what compelled her. I later realized that she must have yearned for escape from my father’s unrelenting violence and the terror of raising eight kids on less than nothing.
I see her in the sunset over the San Joaquin and the arc of the hawk’s flight over the fields behind our park. I hear her voice in the rush of the evening wind and the call of the owl as dusk settles. In the last few months of her cancer, my mother insisted that she just wanted to go home. I have to believe that she made it. She deserved the peace. But for her, paradise would not be a stale and sterile berth among the clouds. She found peace in her garden and on the long walks which she took with the dog instead of going to church on warm Sunday mornings.
I miss my mother. A few weeks ago, I found myself trying to dial her phone number. I got the sequence entered before I shook my head, tears beginning to spill down my cheeks. She died too young. So many sunsets, so many springs, so many grandchildren whom she never saw. It did not seem fair then, and now, in the gloom of the moonless night, I rage against the rank injustice.
I have my mother’s hair, and her slender shoulders, and her stubbornness. That tenacity brought me to late middle age, something she never attained. I miss my mother. I had the glory of her for less than thirty years. She died two weeks before my thirtieth birthday, and less than three weeks before she would have turned fifty-nine. The other day, a health care provider taking my medical history asked me of what my mother had died, so young.
“Metastatic uterine cancer and medical malpractice,” I replied. She stopped writing and raised her head to meet my eyes. She said softly, “I’m sorry,” and we sat in silence for a few minutes.
I am sorry too, I whispered, and I’ve never meant anything so much.
If you — you, reading this — if you still have your mother, please hold her extra-close this Mother’s Day. Tell her that you are grateful for everything she’s done. Find out what she wants from you for this one precious day of an otherwise selfless year. Then do as she asks. Some of us will never again have the luxury of taking our mothers for granted.
It’s the tenth day of the sixty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
FROM A DAUGHTER
What do I say to this woman
sitting across from me
over a society lunch?
What do I saw to she
who changed my diapers
who coaxed me through
a preadolescent limp
and post-pubescent cramps?
How do I treat someone
who learned to drive at forty
fought the maybe-giants
and organized picnics
when she wasn’t at work
or scrubbing floors
There are no words for one
who is too familiar
with emergency rooms
So I sit choking on idle conversation
about the silver market and over-sprouted beans
neither of which I understand.
If I appear tense
it is because I also choke
on unexpressed devotion
and overwhelming sorrow.
c. Corinne Corley, 05 April 1980 – 2019
TO MOTHER, WHO HAS GONE HOME
It is morning. Around me a dim room.
My cousin’s house. Last night
and the night before, we talked too late.
Last night we picked scriptures.
We laughed over my story
of my sisters and I choosing your
casket, which, you’ll be happy to know,
comes with a warranty. But no vault, so
to dust ye shall return. I sleep
on a sofa. It is 7:00 a.m. and I
am afraid. In Kansas City, my
soon-to-be-ex lover is just
finishing his workday. I dreamed of
your death, and now lay panting,
thinking of your stretched skin, your
cold hand. Beads of sweat rise
across my forehead. We have
all known it will be today
because Sunday you said: I am
waiting for them to come, and the last
of your children arrived only hours ago.
And then it is 7:30 and the phone rings
and my sister says, Mary, it’s time to
come home, and I know, and the
sun rises but you are gone and
do not see.
c. Corinne Corley 21 August 1985 – 2019.
IN MEMORY OF:
LUCILLE LYONS CORLEY
09/10/26 – 08/21/1985
SHE HAS GONE HOME.