Summer in the City, 1947
—after Helen Levitt
Your mudder is a Hore
chalked on the sidewalk
where the little girls
wiggle their shoulders,
flutter their skirts
in sluggish August heat.
On the stoop, their keepers
are fanning themselves.
"Just the reverse," her Leica says:
"The papas are glued to the stoop
by the sweat of their pants,
the mamas slump,
August is a bummer,
but look at those girls!
Their ankle socks,
their jivey feet."
Out here, North of Eden, the sky
makes no promises:
one moody cloud and the pressure
plummets. A cold eye keeps watch
even in the rage of heat.
Work is work, but the storms
are historic. Today the sky came unhinged
and the waters lashed
our shoes, our glasses, our helpless clothes.
That immortal weather was a bore.
Too civil. Too many grapes on the vine.
Morning fog, a mild obliging light,
and no rain, not a drop, from May till September.
We might have lulled ourselves
into living forever.
I've got my mother
secured by two magnets to the freezer door.
We're the same age, almost.
A cold day for both of us,
but she’s not complaining.
It’s a long long while from May
to Wherever, she sings off-key.
Ten years since she died, and she’s got
See how she managed
Glue Factory Road, all rocks and hard places,
with her walker, her pillbox, her purse
of sorrows, her freckled hands?
She used to put those hands to work
stripping and chopping,
tchik-tchok on the cutting board.
How did she manage
to chop without looking, to speak
without stopping to think?
She made those knuckly fingers of hers
button her beige sweater
inch by inch. Eighty years
to complete the course from
“I can button this all by myself”
to “I can still button.”
What a trouper you are! I salute her,
more generous than I used to be.
You never knew me, she comes back quietly,
and lately that’s an invitation,
not a complaint.