It started with my mother

       using the walker to get from her bedside to the bathroom

and me saying wow, and wonderful.


It started one morning

       when my mother looked in the mirror and asked: Who

the fuck is that? Disgusted.


It started with the medicines:

       the ones that make her cheeks swell up,

the ones that make her hair fall out in tufts.


She asks us now to brush it straight, all day.

She wants it gone. She hands us nests

of hair left on the sheets.


It started

       when the gods came out of their tin huts, pounding.

Someone, somewhere, has made a mistake.


And here in the mirror

my mother's face

       is a ball of dough. Who


the fuck. Do you know


you're you, I asked, underneath it? No.


It started when I told my mother

       to look at me. It started with the pause,

before she did. Somewhere, someone.


Do you know you're you

       who loves me, I asked, and started it. That long before

she answered, I don't know.


It started when I told her well I do.

       It started when I promised, when I lied. I thought I could find

her eyes. I thought I could look, from mine, and tell them.


Good, she said. So …

       where's my toothbrush?

I handed her the toothbrush. She brushed her teeth.

For years we were silent at the mirror, listening to the bristles push.


When she walked

       out of the bathroom her legs buckled.

So it started, when I didn't say stop. Come back to me. Walk.


I dragged a chair to the door with one hand, dragged

       my mother from the walker down into it.


       My father walked into the room. What's happening, folks.

It started when he failed. Do you know you're you.


I said Mom doesn't recognize herself.

       Here, Mom. You sit and talk with Dad about it.

It started when they talked about it.


What you need, he told her, is a different shirt.

       Like this red one, he said, and they were one person, failing.


And then it started, on the staircase, when he dropped her.


When he screamed my name. When I dropped the phone.


He could not lift her up again, or let her fall.

My mother on the third step, in the red blouse.

I slipped my arms beneath her arms and dragged her up to standing.

       I don't remember her shaking completely

but she was shaking completely.

Listen, I said. Please. Will, I said. Do.

       It started with me speaking. We walked each step.

Her knees held. Wow, we said. Wonderful. We kept her up.

We swept her up. We wept her—Please.

       It started when we finished, when we got downstairs.

You did it, you—Beautiful. It started one morning.

She looked in the mirror. My father

       dropped her, on the steps.

It started when.


We're in the living room, my mother's

       lips are parted. She's too tired to. My mother leaning

into the cushions of the couch. It started


when we got there. My mother looking at me, from someplace

I can't see. I see: my mother's face, puffed to dough

around her features. I see the starting point, shift through time.


So when she turns to me on the couch and asks,

       Would you let me go?

It hasn't come yet. We're still nowhere, we haven't arrived.


When she turns to my soul from a place I can't see.

       Would you let me



Could it have started with the question?


My mother, one morning, leaning into the couch. The late light.

originally published in


(spring, 2006)

published in

Houses Are Fields