Dear Dead Mother,
Sometimes I wonder what you and my father found in each other. Based on what I know about you — your seriousness, in particular (I’ve heard that you often sat in the top bunk of your bed with a book) — I can’t quite see it. He was a teenager with long hair and reckless habits and indifference towards his mother and father and the rules. You were a young woman with longer hair and expectations for yourself and obligations to your family, including your alcoholic mother. Maybe his recklessness appealed to your desire to escape.
I think that must be it: the fast rides on his motorcycle; the taste of cold beers on the steps of the Lakefront in New Orleans, where the butts of reefers and cigarettes danced in the shallow brown water; the long, late nights. You wrote him a poem once. You must have been seventeen.
Life is living
Day by day
Hour by hour
And looking into the future
Life is more, much more
When you have someone to live for.
When I read the poem you had written to my father for the very first time, I was a teenager myself and it was a Sunday afternoon. My father’s mother, who raised me after your death, presented it to me quite dramatically, telling me that it had just mysteriously appeared on the floor of the garage. Now I think that she must have heard me the night before, raising my voice at a black-and-white picture of you on my wall: “Where are you?” I had said over and over. “Where are you? Where are you, MOM?” Perhaps she had found the poem years before, and it had been tucked away in her jewelry box until the moment when she decided that I needed you to speak to me.
I’m cynical about the whole scene now — my grandmother’s dramatic presentation, the poem’s mysterious ‘reveal,’ the reason you wrote the poem in 1974. My father and I are in a bad place. You should know that. I confess to my cynicism. I own it, and I’m owed it after many years of flirting with my resentments but choosing to do the right thing and give him the break that everyone else has. I’m done with that for now.