CRITICAL GAZE

Coming to you from the real world, coming to you

from ground zero, here in the atmosphere

of struggle, of missteps, of hope in the midst of challenges,

of everyday grind, of routine errors, of stumbles and

quick steps that can pull me to quicksand or to safety.

I remember the visits and the phone calls, me

stuttering and quavering, uncertain of how to pronounce

words, having difficulty getting my lips to move,

a tiny nothing in your presence and thwarted

in my attempts to express myself, I am

humbled by your glory and your gaze. You know

me without my words.

From where you are from, you can no longer see this,

this human, this person who can't always cope, who

feels the heat of perspiration, who makes a mess of

what should be clear and concisely shown, you can

no longer see what I go through in this real world.

But I feel you all the same, all your power, all your

self-possession, all your withdrawn intelligence, your

eyes that pierce and have knowledge of things that

I can't seem to find in my searching and my quests.

You are known and unknown.

You are with me when I sleep, when I dream about

what you bring, behind the scenes, in the background,

never the focal point of my dreamy dramas,but you are there

following me everywhere, with me

in my virtual journeys to the mundane and the

miraculous, to the strange world of bitter science

fiction that sometime swallows me up and sometimes

sets me up to be the hero of my fuzzy half life.

You are there even when I don't want you to be

in those times when I am not looking for you, in

the hours when I am alone with my thoughts but

you escape your world and enter mine as a ghost

of different shades, who can shape change, a

wave that rises and then breaks over me.

I have decades of your life to remember, to relive,

to both relish and repel, to be enveloped by your

warmth, to be ejected through the hatch of your

critical gaze, to be wanted like only a mother wants

from a son, to disappoint like only a son

when he turns away from ideal.

Was it only me who felt this gaze of condescension,

this glare of wonderment as I struggles and fought,

this look of disdain, are you really my son and am

I really responsible for what I raised, or is this only

my dreamy imagination taking hold because I can't

always be like you, have the strength of you,

the persona of a warrior queen.

There were the times when I let you down, in

my mind, when I wasn't the son you wanted from me,

the firstborn was not free from your worry,

you sent me those notes, telling me to be confident,

you sent me those messages by phone, how could you,

what did you, why can't you, why aren't you,

how did you.

I couldn't tell you everything, not of my mental

state, of my sexual state, of my physical state,

don't get me wrong, you wouldn't argue about it,

but you would do much worse: you would not

listen, it was too much to take in our surface world,

too much to really want to hear, like a

fire tamped down by grinding feet.

And when I had my heart attack,

you shrugged it off as routine maintenance,

everyone has had one, there is no reason to worry,

all recover today, do not be concerned,

as we skated on through the rough ice patches.

You didn't want to visit, for our house was no antiseptic

estate, you didn't want to hear about my life, for fear

that you'd invest too much or feel too deflated. You

didn't want to be too involved but you wanted to know secretly,

wanting us to want you, to visit you, to see you in your domestic glory,

but only for a time until you could get back to your bridge and

your tennis game and your cooking and your matchbook friends.

You traveled the world, we stayed behind,

you entertained and inspired, we hid in our living rooms,

you had plastic done, we showed our wrinkles and contours,

you were tanned and young in middle age, full of drive like a diva,

we stayed behind and in our servants' quarters, took walks and

took our lumps in life, seized not the day but a night of sleep.

I couldn't dress like you wanted, couldn't live like you wanted,

couldn't be free like you wanted, couldn't make my way

to the city of golden dreams, my ticket was only punched for

more middle class triumphs minuscule and unmarked. You were

famous in your own right for your celebrated energy, I was

infamous for my edginess and nervousness, the other side of the coin,

my sprite-like temperament revealing a lack of focus,

a dissolution in your presence.

I remember at four how you laughed when I spilled my sloppy Joe

on my jeans, when I knocked over chairs en route to the outside,

when I lost my glasses, when I did anything that wasn't made

of perfect timing. You dressed me like a boy model when all I wanted

was a cowboy outfit and six shooter, you asked me to keep my room tidy

when all I wanted was to spread out my baseball cards like furniture

coverings. You didn't allow for transgression without laughter.

That laughter later turned to disappointment. In high school, I wore

my hair long and was a teenage cynic. You wondered what happened to

that shining boy who could realize dreams. All I wanted to do was

withdraw from others who judged me, to be completely separate from

others who would look down, to not need anyone to tell me anything

or else I'd shrink and die.

Later in life, I had trouble with trust, you were too

disdainful, judgmental like a parole officer, lips turned down in

pursed dissatisfaction, wondering if I was solvent, if I was doing

my best, if I was seeking opportunity, seizing the day so that

I could prove it to you.

But still you are with me now, I can't shake you from my dreams,

you cared in your own way, you were there as a presence that made me

in your image, you shaped me, like it or not, for I am strong,

resilient, unbowed, but unable to share emotion easily or give

praise unanchored from pretension, that is you in me.

At the same time, when you enter my dreams, I sometimes cry

silently in my sleep when I think of you, the fact that you are alive

in my thoughts but not in physical appearance, I wonder and ask,

were you really so hard, so tough, or was this only a surface emotion

where underneath there was love and caring, just not in the way

other mothers would show it.

For I remember all our conversations, the ones about theater

and movies and art and books, anything of the world of

creation, of imaginative make-believe that makes us come alive

with our emotions, even when we have trouble expressing

them otherwise, we can show our passion through art, through

the work of our imaginations.

This is what I imagine of you: the passion of your energies

shining a searing light through me. I believe, I believe,

if I only can remain true to myself.


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