Who smells like spring.
May arrives with the sight of a single pink helix-ribbon pinned to the blouse of survivors, cantering as if treading water around midtown in a billowing glob of awareness and of, intrinsically, hope.
May is the month of transitions--of solemn almost pastoral garb and geometric hats bearing limp tassels bobbing as if in lost unison at the rhetoric and ramble of a commencement speech. It arrives with playoffs and barbecues. With seasonal hoppy pilsners on draft. With time off requests and looming summer itineraries. With dreams of packing everything that aches with longing inside your chest in a carry-on bag and leaving and then coming back somehow changed.
May is the month where every kitchen I walk into seems to noticeably reek of windex. The month of people wearing shorts who blatantly just shouldn’t go there. The month of twenty dollar bills unassumingly slipped into graduation cards by relatives you hardly know. The month where the morning sun begins to ricochet off the planet in a canopy of pre-dawn tint around six a.m., and set even later, casting out a neon-pink sail bejeweled with a rusty patina, dappled with slight splotches of copper and blue into the horizontal balcony of the overhead west.
And dangling in the background like wished for white noise the intermittent nasal buzz of a stuttering lawn mower followed almost always in tandem by middle-aged curses.
May, the month winking open like apple-blossom flowers on trees, yawning into pedaled consciousness, attacking the senses with wisped seeds of life scattering in random places in hopes of propagation and growth. May, the first Sunday, the stem of the wedding bride-colored carnation set aside like a matriarchal baton, aesthetically asterisked for the creature whose aquatic nest seasoned us for the first nine months of gestation, the womb where consciousness began with a flipper and a pulse and ends nine months later somehow cradled in the limbs of the woman you will one day refer to as mom.
And this flower is an epistle of thanksgiving to my own mother on mothers day, my mother who gave her engagement ring to Jesus.
As if traipsing through the botanical garden that is spring and feeling the scent of the planet enter your body in little puffed bouquets of vitality every time you inhale, here is a panoramic resume of the visual syllables hovering through the greenhouse of my psyche every time somebody says the word quote, “mom":
I think about my mom with her birch tree lank to her almost anemic limbs, skinny as a wind-chime with her soy milk and her fridge fraught with vegetables. My mother with her love of thrift stores and her clattering blue sandals and modest denim dresses leaking down from the dimensions of her strip pole-skinny torso like a bell. My mother with her weekly Ladies bible studies and her potluck dinners and her killer lasagna and her German coffee cake that is out of this world and her special egg, sausage and cheese casserole she furnishes for the entire family on Christmas morning. My mom who is a pastural cove of kindness in a biblical unselfish sense that makes the recipient feel humble and serene and loved just to be around her. My mom who has spent the bulk of her career patiently helping kids from turbulent backgrounds learn how to read sentences, how to read books, how to express themselves through the hieroglyphic tinker-toy ink of the alphabet.
My mom who believes that her assurance rests elsewhere.
My mother who is the strongest woman I have ever met.
My Mother who votes almost nihilistically with the candidate who is pro-life but who said she prayed for the health and safety of Barrack Obama when he was elected.
Mom with her homemade quilts and her shit I can’t stand christian radio always blaring in the hushed marble counters of her kitchen. With her recycling projects. My mom who for the first slipped decade of my life (lets face it) harbored a bad eighties perm which was slightly reminiscent of public televisions Bob Voss's afro.
Mom who is always praying. Sunday morning in the Baptist church she now attends, the litheness of her arms configured like a football line officiate making the sign for a valid field goal in the direction of heaven.
My mother playing the organ, always directing handbells, sitting in the front row of our church every Sunday taking notes, inviting guests over after the second service cooking a big dinner as my father watched football and read Rick Baker in the palpable beast of print that was once the Sunday Journal Star.
My mom who now lives in a house that looks like a cross between Thomas Kinkaid vignette of light and a brick kiln that would roast hobbits, the house her late husband grew up in, where he lived with his parents when they first started dated, when she arrived in Peoria of all-fucking-places to do her student teaching at a school situated on the south side of town.
I think about my mom who grew up in the working class south side of Chicago (hardcore whitesox terra ferma for all those who know me) an area now which is almost completely demographically Hispanic. My mom, the youngest of a big Czech family who was raised almost entirely by my grandmother. My mom who today still won’t drink a beer because when she was little her alcoholic father somehow splashed a shot of Blatz in her milk and she got sick. The whole family scared to death of my grandpa, his wife included. My mom being less than five fingers old hiding in the closet from the encroaching silhouette and sour mashed bourbon scent of her own father who has once again come home drunk and is looking for someone to wail on.
My grandmother taking solace in a nearby Lutheran church, partly because they had free day care.
My mother growing up pious, going to Lutheran college down the street from where Ernest Hemingway spent his formative years, the street riddled with the oblong planks and the cataclysmic architectural tilt of Frank Lloyd Wright houses who no one wanted to own in the mid-sixties because they thought they were eccentric. My mother finding herself teaching in a somewhat seedy river town two hours south of Chicago, meeting the coiled-spring gait and clumsy smile of my father at the church affiliated with the school where she was assigned to teach. My father falling droolingly in love the moment the goggly lenses of his glasses fogged up with internal soul-mate longing as he laid eyes on her, romantically cozening my mom to escort him into the wild backroad feral dips and tangles of the country the first night they met to stare at the broken cosmic chandelier braille of the overhead stars. The two of them blasting down the turns of Smithville road, my dad driving off the road, his three hundred dollar dodge getting stuck in the muddy banks abutting the side of a nearby creek, the oratorio-like chirp of various insects snapping on a hot summer night as my future parents hitch into town in the back of a truck, my Uncle plowing them free later on that night.
My mom who made my father lovingly genuflect on to the indented corduroy caps of his knees like a maladroit shoe salesman groping her slender overturned palm and proposing three times, coercing him to stop smoking and playing the lotto before her lips finally assenting, saying the word yes like she says the word amen every Sunday to his request in a smile.
My mother being modest, thinking that the ring my father bought her was too expensive, beckoning my father to exchange if for a cheaper one, the excess money my parents deciding to give to the church, to their lord as a tithe of their pending union.
My Mother and father who walked themselves down the burgundy runway strip of the wedding aisle into the pastel cumulus of the altar of their Deity bartering vows in front of the only god they have ever believed in while my grandfather, estranged and bitter without a beer, later confessing to his youngest daughter that he was in the parking lot of the church but just couldn’t bring himself to be in the same room with my grandmother.
Couldn't bring himself to walk his youngest daughter down the aisle.
If the thermostat-slender frame of my father looks like the luckiest man to have ever bartered oxygen with carbon-dioxide on the atmospherical forehead of this planet there's a simple reason.
It's because he has the smile of my mother matchlocked for life in the bridgework and geometry of his arms.
My parents who honeymooned in a christian conference in Dallas. Always serving the lord. Always putting his will first. Always praying together before meals. Praying together before bed. Always believing that the metaphsyical stock of their insurance lies elsewhere. Always putting their westernized-variation of a deity in front of that of their every materialistic desire.
My mother, who cropped the long swaying stage curtain alluring svelte of her diaphanous black tresses into an almost luting paige-boy at-a-madrigal-dinner chic finesse when she first became pregnant. Wading four years into their marriage before conceiving. Rejoicing at first. Offering holistic hosannas and pslams to their God, the bulb of life gestating somewhere above the stem of her torso. Like a flowered nub of spring. Like the resurrection. The promise of the life that is to come.
Then one night it happens. Three months into the pregnancy. In the porcelain baptismal font of the toilet. Everything falls out of her into a sanguinary pottage of lost entrails. The blood of the lamb. The tears of my mother who believes that even Jesus wept.
The two of them have supplicated and prayed. They are heartbroken. The gentle-bearded assessment of my father stating that they will get pregnant again. That this loss is somehow the will of god and that God is somehow to be praised in this unerring time of darkness.
My mom quoting bible verses, saying that she will still praise him. To let the Lord Jesus Christ be praised.
There oldest son being born less than a complete year later. Realizing drunk one night when I am in my early twenties realizing somehow that if my mother had never lost the gestating yolk of initial life kicking inside of her, had never experienced the pain she felt that night as she looked down into the baptismal font of the toilet and saw her tears reflected in the interior pulp of her anatomy— that if it wasn't for my mother's initial miscarriage, this author never would have been conceived.
My mom being told by a nurse the day I was born that I was the only placenta-caked creature she had ever seen who, when entering this planet, didn’t scream his way into consciousness with wailing high pitched minor key cacophonous octaves, instead I entered the bubble of this atmosphere of being puckered lips and pensive, a periscopic potato sack, looking around as if taking dictation in the new found soil I now found myself being escorted inside of via the dandling breath and limbs of surrounding antiseptic titans.
My mother naming me David out of the bible. The very vacation bible school agape appellation meaning "Beloved." Meaning a man after the poetic pulse of God's own heart.
Mother who thought my name was always going to be "No-no David," when I was two years old since that is all she ever said to me. Her son who just can't stand still. Who is a sloppy eater and wakes up in the middle of the night and can't stand up straight without bouncing around like an integered slightly breezed lotto ping-pong ball and screaming. Her son who inexplicably always wants to go to Szolds and who always inquires "Mom, where do you think all those people are going?" when he is three and they are stuck in traffic. Lil' David who can't stop clanging the pans in the kitchen together and clapping to the metallic din and syncopation of the echoing sound his ears regsiter to be the gnawing silt of an unfolding reality. Her son whom his mom took an almost prophetic picture of when he was randomly pelting at this daddy's smith-corona, the cursive caption in the book chornicling the first year old my life reading, "Maybe I'll be a writer someday," couldn't be more apt.
So convenes the story of my parents, dual lavender hushed progenitors in a nativity scene at the end of somebody else's usurped notion of time giving birth to two more (girls) musical savants. Memories of mother growing up- hunched over in an emerald (70’s fabric) housecoat in a pre-natal second tri-mester position in front of the yawning grille of the heater in the dining room, always a thoroughly annotated dog-eared bible next to her, always scribbling down her thoughts in a notebook in politely looped carbonated cursive handwriting. Feeling blessed to have somehow eschatologically inherited a family of two parents who adamantly believed in hushing shut the cyclopic iris of the television screen and reading to their kids every night. Memories of my mother reading Box car children to us in the old southern rocking chair they refurbished (role playing under the grand piano, gnawing into the rooting stalks with imprints of our baby teeth ), mother reading George MacDonald's THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN my first formative read. The protagonist named after my mother's mom, mom reading the tale to me in the bed where I more than likely was conceived.
Thus how myself and my two sisters were raised.
Raised in a house with the pastel breezy gentleness of a Sunday afternoon in spring. Raised in a house with Newberry award books doting the shelves of bedrooms and with musical chords evaporating in thunderous staccato puffs above the ivory tumble of the piano. Raised in a house where my father somehow found time to assist his kids with everything. To lob a ball in the side alleyway after school. To write songs about his kids on his guitar. Raised in a house where Christ was King, where there was always music and devotions and laughter. Raised in a house where evening meals were a five member family obligation. Raised in a house where there was always dilapidated fifteen year old station wagons cluttering the cement snap of the driveway--vehicles that would always seemingly breakdown around the holidays but where there was always music and devotions and self-produced plays and laughter. Raised in the house with parents who supplicated on the caps of their knees and prayed at their kids bed side every night.
Raised in a house that was almost overtly pg-13 rated, (the only time I ever heard my mom curse was on a family vacation out east and I duplicitously cozened her into inverting t he R and the F in the word FUDRUCKERS).
My mother, the strongest woman I have ever met. Standing next to my father on his deathbed.
My father who never had more than two beers in a week and was a non-smoker and who ran every day and who was humble and harvested his kids in a cloak of kindness and who never cursed and did everything right. My father who just two weeks earlier was cracking cheesy jokes and teaching third graders how to read. My father who almost three exact decades earlier couldn't stop smiling as he escorted the bridal sheet of my mother down the aisle while her own father was out in the parking lot getting shit-faced, my father, supine and with IV's threaded and needled throughout his anatomy. His entire body coated in pebbles of bronze sweat, his breathing lapsed and muffled and intervaled as if his entire anatomy was somehow being tossed out from the aching hovel of his lips every time he tittered an gasped for breath. My mom massaging the jaundice continents of my fathers bare feet on his death bed, thanking my father simply for the man he was while No-no David can't stand to be near the gaping breath of his moribund dad without slinking out into the bathroom and doing a bump of cocaine off the lid of the toilet, staying in the room for eight hours that night watching as the arena dome of viable flesh that rises and descends with every pricked breath gradually come to a stutter and then to a ceasing halt and then to a tearful pause, a filter of flesh cardboard stiff and then no more.
My mother standing in front of the yawning casket the day of my father's wake, her body attired in the simple drip of a black dress looking like a keyhole socket to some other world while gridlocked mourners grope the white doves of her hand and tilt their heads in endeavored acts of empathy and wreath their arms around my mom and her children in life preserving fashion and squeeze, talking about it being such a shame that my father died so young and what a man of kindness and character he was and telling my mom to be strong and my mother, telling each of the freight train line of shocked mourners the same thing over and over again as if in a round.
“His faith was in Jesus. He is with the Lord.”
There is more I could tell you about the creature I have eternally addressed as mom. I could tell you all about her benevolence to the elderly. How she is caring and kind. How she is always making baked goods or delivering food for people who are shut in. How the day after every thanksgiving until last year when she died at the ripe old age of 102 my mother and myself would drive down to Kewanee Illinois and see my great aunt Evelyn, mom using her good wedding china, giving aunt Evelyn a “chicken dinner” the day after thanksgiving.
I could tell you emotionally what it felt like to sit next to my mom in the baptist church she now attends the weeks and months after my fathers sudden death. I can tell you what I felt like inside, my arm buckled around her shoulders in the pew as tears of loss would seemingly drip out of every pore from her body. I could tell you how she continued to sing hymns loud, continued to hold her hands up in prayer as if performing the wave at a college basketball game, giving thanks to God who is her solace.
I could tell you how my mom was my best friend when my employer for over a decade, Bradley University, royally fucked me over last year and my drinking got out of control. Mom letting me crash in her house for a week to dry out, feasting on her chili. Mom, always praying, always scribing me notes in cursive blue ink riddled with bible verses, with guttural old testament names divided by dotted-totemic colons and integers.
I can tell you that it doesn't matter who it is my mother will pray for you if you are in need or rejoice with you in gratitude.
I could tell you about the time I cried and broke down in front of my mom, confessing to her the truth about the woman who the best times of my life were experienced with and who has been married to the same man since I entered in puberty. The woman I wrote epistles of sensual longing to every day for over two years telling her how much I love her, telling her how complete the metaphysical splash of her smile feels against the shoreline of my chest. Telling her how I can feel the residual glow of her all around me at all times.
The woman I made take off her own engagement rock and slip it into her side pocket before I introduced her to my own mother.
Crying. Telling my mom that my heart feels like it just went through the paper shredder at kinkos before I explode.
Myself now telling my mother how I felt like I was always a paralyzed product of my area code. How I wish that she would have somehow left her husband, but how she never will. Yelling, thrashing my mothers and late fathers ethical assurance in something higher. Claiming that I wish they wouldn't have given so much damn money to their fucking missionaries. To their religious charities. To their invidiously right-winged religious radio programs and instead, siphoned their funds into an education pool for their progeny their kids wouldn't be on the verge of bankrupcy trying to pay off student loans, working shit jobs all hours the day, drunk, dabbling in substanbce abuse trying to find meaning and love and accepatance in their lives.
And my mother not judging her No-no david, not admonishing her son in the slightest for falling madly in love and getting emotionally involved with a classy older married woman. My mother sensing the interior of her son's chest as being nothing short of a concavity of hurt, grabbing my hand, spoonfeeding him the mantra she has spoonfed me since I was old enough to swallow gerbers, saying simply:
“Life is hard but God is good, David.”
And indeed somehow he is.
I could tell you very simply that I've never heard my mom complain about any of the trauma she has endured over the lithe butterfly wings that is a life of faith and of grace. I've never heard her grouse or bitch. I never heard her play the blame game or act biased or cape herself with almost well deserved bitterness at the throes of her losses. Even though I know it destroyed her inside, I never heard her complain about her father not having the balls to walk her down the aisle. Although it wounded her within and she cried for weeks, I've never heard her expressing anything but faith and grace in regards to her inopportune miscarriage. Although her husband was taken from her way too early, taken from her before he was allowed to retire, taken from her before he had an opportunity to walk any of his own daughters down the wedding aisle or travel with his spouse or dandle a grandchild on the cap of his knees.
I've never heard my mom question the rudiments of her spiritual vocation.
I never heard anything say anything except my Jesus Christ quite simply be praised.
I could tell you that N0-no David is struggling to become the David my mother envisioned when she blessed me with the color of my name. The David who (ahem) just couldn't stop writing poetic psalms of light. The David who got involved with married women and who ironically has a best friend named John I seldom get to see.
I could tell you that, every Christmas, I give my mom jewelry--I try to get her something nice. Normally in the two hundred dollar range or so. Sometimes its a golden cross or a bracelet. Sometimes it is a ring. Even though my mom is modest and she tells me not to spend so much money on her. Every Christmas without fail I think about my mother who, in the early seventies, decided to sacrifice her emblem of materialistic nuptial union for something even greater she still ardently believes in.