Michael McGriff

Mother Expanding from the Piano, the Light, the Whales

Dust and blackberry carried on the wind,
            sand moving hand over hand
in the dunes, memory,
            like invisible paper, ribbons away
from the dead pulp mill.
           We want proximity with how we feel
but it expands and divides.
           The neighborhood is cold.
Across the street an old friend lives
          her early widowhood,
leaves her houselights blazing
          through the night. My mother
finds herself at her piano bench,
          shuffling lieder. I listen, pressed
to my bedroom wall,
         the hollow pedal-thump,
dust and Chopin moving through the room
        on the back of the sun, parasites
on a whale of descending light.
        My grandfather is dying, there’s light
around my mother.
        Georgia Pacific’s closing its mills
for the last time in the ‘80s.
        My father no longer raises
stickered 2x4s into the machined night.
        What black keys does he hear
as he waits at the D.M.V.
        for an endorsement to drive a cab?
The light around my mother
        is the light of magnitude.
If it’s winter in this memory,
       then cities of grief expand
in each drop of rainwater
        and my mother positions her hands.
Offshore, one whale sings to a distant other
       in a way that leaves
whatever’s between stunned,
      the presence of song
rising toward its listener.
      A light sprinkling of rain
ignites the scent of skunk cabbage
      in the ravine behind our house.
The fir trees nudge each other
      in the slight wind.
My mother’s left hand is grief,
       her right, beauty.
She plays on the upright
      with such patience, each note alone
makes its ringing orbit.
      Somewhere in the future
I look up from the block-ice
      I’ve been stacking
nine-high-a-pallet at the marina.
      The wind kicks its low hum up the trees
and fingertips of light
      pull along the shore.
Whatever’s moving toward me
      has lit the salt fire of my lips.
I crane my neck
      for the long look back.
My life is immense.

Michael McGriff
Poem, copyright © Michael McGriff, 2005
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse