Better the Cup Breaks Before You
“There is so much that I saved for special—how stupid. Upstairs in my closet are clothes I’ve never worn, because I was saving them for something special. Now I’m dying, and I’ll never wear those clothes. Now I know—it’s all special. When you go home tonight, pull out one of the china plates I gave you that you are saving for special, and eat a taco off of it. Splash salsa, be messy, and use the cloth napkins. Drink tea out of that antique cup. If it breaks, at least you enjoyed it first. Everything ends eventually, better the cup breaks before you.” — Judith Pittman, quilter, fiber artist, creative problem-solver,
April 26, 1937 – June 8, 2003
I can do nothing but watch
a sky ripe with stars, spilling a path of light
over her bed, a brilliance fading
until there is one faint star
slowly receding, the last point of light
as the night turns itself off,
a dim face, a tiny white bird drifting away
into a universe so edgeless
and vacant it might get lost.
The mountain opens its red mouth
and red clouds fly out and crows oddly quiet,
just the panting of their wings
against the still air. Scattered on her floor
are a few pale pink and deep rosy flowers—
no, just the crumpled tissues
into which she coughed.
Soaking her wash cloth in steamy water,
I gently bathe her back, each vertebra
pushing up like a buried pebble,
then her shoulders hunched from years
of fine needlework, then her hands,
slender, with their unblemished olive skin
rippling over veins, her ruddy palms,
her long, perfect fingers that remember
doing all of this for me, then her feet.
I hold and separate each toe to swab
the web of skin in between. For the first time,
I see my mother.
Was it Christ or the Buddha who said
“make of yourself a light”? My mother
is a star, cooling. Each day her body,
with its heart of fire, consumes itself,
flinging out a little less light,
drawing us closer.
This poem is in memory of my mother who would be 74 today. It is the winner of the 2011 Jodi Stutz Memorial Prize in Poetry and will be published in the May 2011 issue