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.
 
© Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Used from Donkey Gospel with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

Poems by This Author

Coming and Going by Tony Hoagland
My marriage ended in an airport long ago.
I Have News for You by Tony Hoagland
There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
In Praise of Their Divorce by Tony Hoagland
And when I heard about the divorce of my friends
Jet by Tony Hoagland
Sometimes I wish I were still out
Quiet by Tony Hoagland
Prolonged exposure to death
Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet by Tony Hoagland
At this height, Kansas
Reasons To Survive November by Tony Hoagland
The Change by Tony Hoagland
The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine


Further Reading

Poems about Luck
Hey Allen Ginsberg Where Have You Gone and What Would You Think of My Drugs?
by Rachel Zucker
Luck is not chance (1350)
by Emily Dickinson
Near misses
by Laura Kasischke
Page 22 / oh lucky me
by Frances Chung
The Conditional
by Ada Limón
Poems About Mothers
Disciplines [If there is prayer, there is a mother kneeling]
by Dawn Lundy Martin
Kaddish, Part I
by Allen Ginsberg
a woman peeling apples, with a small child
by Pattie McCarthy
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Chorus
by Catherine Barnett
Exile
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Getting Close
by Victoria Redel
Jugglers
by Francisco Aragón
Mama, Come Back
by Nellie Wong
Measurement Fable
by Rusty Morrison
Metamorphosis
by James Richardson
Mother
by Lola Ridge
Mother
by Herman de Coninck
Mother Ann Tells Lucy What Gave Her Joy
by Arra Lynn Ross
Mother o' Mine
by Rudyard Kipling
Mother's Day
by David Young
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
by Mark Strand
My Mother Was No White Dove
by Reginald Shepherd
My Mother Would Be a Falconress
by Robert Duncan
My Mother's Funeral
by Ira Sadoff
Parents
by William Meredith
Picking Up
by Evelyn Duncan
Poems about Motherhood
Postcards
by E. Ethelbert Miller
Postpartum
by Hiromi Itō
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
She Leaves Me Again, Six Months Later
by Collier Nogues
The Player Queen
by W. B. Yeats
The Routine Things Around the House
by Stephen Dunn
The Visit
by Jason Shinder
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
To My Mother
by Edgar Allan Poe
To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti
To My Mother
by Robert Louis Stevenson
To My Mother Waiting on 10/01/54
by Teresa Carson
Untitled [A house just like his mother's]
by Gregory Orr
Wedding Cake
by Naomi Shihab Nye
With Child
by Genevieve Taggard
[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]
by Christina Rossetti