~This poem previously appeared in Rhino (2011).
After a Stroke, My Mother Examines a Picture of the Icon of Our Lady of Guadelupe
Lady, why is your countenance
the color of vole feet
draggling from the jaws of a cat?
What tribe of mud daubers
stung stars onto your mantle?
Who names the fumbles
that topple from your breasts?
Your counterspell blunts
the jagged crescent
of every campesino’s
charmed and smoldering scythe.
the ticker tape of your vow.
In torchlight, your eyebrows
fly to heaven on thin wings of soot.
Only the moon survives
the crush of your heel.
Virgin of Guadelupe, I pray for your handshake,
I pray for your ribs, I pray for your hips,
the ones tugged dry
while expelling that bountiful head
ordained to gnaw
all the hangnails of history.
Steer me, Lady, through the lightning
that browns the mountains.
Drown the infections
that flush my cough into a gargle.
Virgin, who never burned a supper,
strip me of strangles, grizzles,
knots, of scratched jazz
skipping the shadows
out of my sleep.
Princess of the Aztecs,
thread my poncho with roses this winter
that I might adorn that tomb slab
where even cayenne would cool,
where your son’s brain was looted
of its chemical salves,
and where his feet, which stretched the sea
smooth as a conga head,
refused to rest
at right angles to the ground.
Kiss me, mother of Mexico’s hope—
your little mouth
is still rusty with smoke.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
A number of years ago, I wrote a series of poems in the voice of my mother, or rather in the voice of a persona part my mother, part something very different from her external personality. After she had a stroke, the license I took with her character found new vectors to follow. In this poem, my mother, a semi-lapsed Catholic (she went to Mass but rejected the orthodoxy), mixes her skepticism and her earlier intense devotion as she considers the Virgin of Guadelupe. At once compassionate, cosmopolitan, and slightly disparaging, my mother would have indulged herself with this kind of hallucinatory engagement with the icon of the miracle attested to by a Mexican peasant only with an ambivalent ardor.
ABOUT TOM DALEY
Tom Daley leads workshops in poetry and memoir writing at the Online School of Poetry, Boston Center for Adult Education, and Lexington Community Education. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Fence, Harvard Review, In Posse Review, Barrow Street, Conte, Poetry Ireland Review, Diagram, and elsewhere and has been anthologized in Hacks: The Grub Street Anthology; Poets for Haiti; and Unlocking the Poem. He is the author of Every Broom and Bridget, a play about Emily Dickinson and her servants, which he performs as a one-man show.