Tornado Country

By Elizabeth Kirschner 

My mother is on the sofa, arrayed on the sofa like a wretched lady-in-waiting, she has beached herself on the sofa for years and she is waiting for me, her daughter, to pay her homage, speak in psalms, bless her with my beauty, the very beauty she detests. The heavy curtains, like those in a puppet theatre, are drawn closed before sliding glass doors.

Somewhere outside it is summer, large blue puppets descend long blue hills and evening is introducing its mystery play, the puppets, the players who will shadowbox with shadows dense with shadowy souls.

My soul, dressed in such dressy shadows, mixes with my mother’s, its toxic brew and our strings twitch as we speak in voices low as a priest’s in the black coffin of the confessional. I want my mother to say, “We are of the earth’s and the earth is of us.”

I want my mother to say, “What takes the breath away, the wind will keep,” but her words have foghorns in them, weeping foghorns, and they are distant, few, created by the machinations of a brain so black, it is stained with soot.

“Canaries,” I say and she looks at me stupefied. Everything stupefies my mother—the tying of shoes, the fork and the spoon, even the solitaire she plays incessantly, the slap of the cards on the coffee table, the only music she can make on an earth that no longer wants her and never did.

“I love canaries,” I continue, “how they sing even when the hood is dropped, like that of an executioner’s, over their silver cages.” This pronouncement dumbfounds my mother and her eyes flounder like two drowned fish. I want to cup her face, its tarnished relic, in my hands, but if I touch her, she will flinch as if struck by a blow.

She who has played dead for decades is slowly dying. No one knows this but me, yet it is true—already her shadowy soul is tugging its way out of her, knot by knot. Already the River Styx flows in her flawed veins and I am here to ferry her away, assist her out of a body that is a robbed bank.

She does not know this. When she speaks, she does so in mono-syllables in a monotone and her breath carries the stench of burnt cinnamon. She cannot comprehend her own words—language is but a jinx, a bad hoax and when I remind her that I am a poet, she looks at me as if I have cursed.

“Too bad,” she says, then sighs a sigh raspy with wasps and the air we share is alit with stingers, the twitching of strings. Then I do it, that which I never thought I could do, I who have made a pilgrimage of a thousand miles full of a thousand demises to see a mother who despised me as a child and beat me with a meat hammer, the ping pong paddle, pummeled me with the bat signed by our neighbor, Whitey Ford—over the body of this woman who nobody could love, not even maggots or flies, I slowly, deliberately make the sign of the cross.

I have blessed her, am stricken with pity as she lifts her cocktail glass, stares at its gold fire as though it were the very spirit of her one and only God. I have blessed her even though her one and only God has not and she is melting like a paraffin angel. It is I who created the mold for my mother to become a paraffin angel, I who have deified the demonic only to watch her blood flowing with the River Styx be sucked up by the invisible straws in clouds.

“Clouds are cows,” I say and the only complexity left in my mother is her perplexity which she plays like a wild card, a trump. “Cows jump over the moon,” I continue as though telling a nursery rhyme to a young child while my own child is out there, somewhere in summer, playing with the large blue puppets, dancing in between their shadowboxings.

“I’ll box your ears,” she used to say, then assault me like a tyrant throwing a tantrum. Even her hair was the color of rage—black hair that matched the black masterpiece her black brain was so intent on creating and in her black book, she recorded my hoard of sins, both venal and cardinal.

“May peace be with you,” are my next words and there are no weeping foghorns in them, only the clarity of bells and we all know for whom the bells toll for. My mother looks stunned, is the bird who has flown into the window with a dull thud or the window has flown into her. A tear drools from her eye—she quickly wipes it away as if it were one of the flies or maggots that cannot love her because no one, absolutely no one can.

Except for me. She who raised her hand against me has been blessed, has had the sign of the cross made over her dilapidated body, a body only capable of last breaths and each of her last breaths wound me. That I will grieve over my mother overly and utterly too long, that I will become a slave of grief, succumb to it, be its numb drum as I was the numb drum for her riveting violence is something I will cherish, do cherish while she slowly perishes like fruit in dreamy heat.

 “Adieux,” I whisper in a barely there voice and somehow I am already diminished by the loss that looms before me of a mother who knew best and what she knew best was how to desecrate me. I hear her cells zoom out of her like tiny, black comets in a room that is still as the eye of a tornado and we are in tornado country with one skirmishing on the distant horizon. I love tornado country, how the sky turns green just before the cone hits and I remember the tornado drills we practiced in school. We hid under our desks or were herded into an underground corridor where we were made to pray.

Right now, I am one made to pray and I do so silently as I leave my mother, there on the sofa where she is a wretched lady-in-waiting who waits for death to wait on her hand and foot. As I leave my mother, I know I will never see her again as she is already more dead than alive. Leaving her is like leaving tornado country, yet in my mind’s eye, the eye of the tornado is God’s eye and with his tornado breath he will blow my mother into smithereens, wreak a path of holy destruction which I will go down, willingly, till I go down on bended knee.

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