neither here nor there

In my slow fits and starts move to my daughter’s, I usually listen to my NPR station as I make the the two a half hour dirve in a car loaded with bins and boxes. Yesterday, the Writer’s Almanac featured this poem:

by Tony Hoagland
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,
and 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.

The peom really got to me — maybe got to my guilt because that’s not how I feel about my mother, who, with moderate dementia and more aches and pains than one would think possible, is 92 and as demanding as a spoiled toddler with a cold. There is no sitting by her bedside reading a book. She still feeds herself, although more and more often she doesn’t like what I cook for her.
As I sit here at my daughter’s computer, I worry about how she is doing with only my brother to care for her while I’m gone. She panics if she is left alone — or even if she can’t see you (even though you are in the same room). I will be back there again for a few days, and then after a few days, I will cart more of my belongings out here until all that are left of my life with her are my cat and my plants and my computer. They will fill up my car on my final out to my new life..
As my mom gets adjusted to someone new to help with her care I guess I will have to be both here and there for a while. Love and punishment. Neither here nor there.

4 thoughts on “neither here nor there

  1. She is blessed to have people to take care of her and care her — two vey different things.

    Some of us will have no one.

    I applaud your concern for her although it’s difficult.

  2. This reminds me of my cousin when she took care of my aunt. I know all these changes are difficult and that you must have mixed feelings about it. I hope it all goes well for all of you.


  3. The life of a caretaker is not an easy one. My selfish wish is that I never have to burden my daughter with such a difficult chore.

    This has to be a difficult time for you. Stay strong.

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