Flitting & chattering to herself, someone’s mother hovers above
her bowl of soup with a thin, conspiratorial rectitude, the bowl
loaded to the very edge of a chipped lip & on the verge of spilling
over. Turning to one side, she cocks her good ear to her day’s only
meal, querulous, questioning her meager portion, morsel by precious
morsel, first the lentils & stewed tomatoes, then those bits of torn
basil floating on the oily surface, all the while hunting further
as if somewhere in her portion there swims our President
Johnson’s paranoid & bitter farewell to the entire nation.
When she hears nothing, she attacks her day’s thick slice
of black bread, cautiously turning it over for hidden signs
of a curse or a coded message, searching with a raptor’s sharp
eye over the smallest olive. A Whitman in his dirty, kitchen apron
fills our water glasses & says nothing but nods non-judgmentally
to the two of us. I look over & the woman has become, for me,
the plum tree I remember near the alley behind my boyhood home.
Weighted by wind & years, all its limbs were gnarled & knotted
beyond recognition. At last, exhausted & done in, it rested heavily,
leaning with resignation against the garage roof. No one expected
anything further from it although miraculously each autumn all
of the last spring’s Buddha-budded blossoms burst into thick,
sticky globes of ripe juice under their dusty, royal jackets.
As children, we clambered higher & higher into that tangle of
branches above to eat & eat & get the runs for three days running,
only to promise our mother over & over never again would we be so
foolish. Now such a delicious symmetry: Somebody’s forgotten
mother stares up at me, another mother’s ill-begotten son, over
soup & the small comfort of black, olive bread as the last
remaining plum lies in wait in a cracked bowl before us,
waiting for the rendering of a Solomon’s judgment & every-
thing to be made right & whole once again, a shining, new day.