If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

by Tony Hoagland

Other poems of HOAGLAND (12)

Comments (15)

Very poignant poem that brings to fore the impact of aging in life. Thanks.
The precious bondage and most intimate relationship of a child and mother marvelously unfolded. Thanks for sharing it here.
No mother in her right mind abandons her child. We must love our mothers. Not all are mothers but everyone is a son or daughter.........
'Revenge ' attitude is like a 'Brahma Rakyas', a furious demon residing inside the person and kills him first.While taking care of the old mother, the anger and hatred going through the adult child nullify the good deeds done by him.It is painful to see someone feel and treat mother in this way.
This is not a way a mother should be treated. She is soft and lovely when old and must be treated kindly. Nice poem.
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