What We Don’t Say

My mother comes into the kitchen where I’m washing
dishes and announces: I’m going to Costco to buy rice.
Then she stares at me blankly, waits for me to say something.
After a pause, I say “okay” without looking up.
That afternoon she brings in the mail and insists I take it
from her hands, even though I ask her to leave it on the counter.
Our hands do not touch. I know what my mother is trying to say
just based on what her body is doing. One hand placed gently
against her throat means she wants to seem helpless.
An index finger pressed against one nostril as she looks
away means she’s about to tell me something untrue
that she needs me to believe.
She is nearly 80, and just this year, I’ve noticed
that when she’s confused by something I say,
her eyelids tremble and shutter like an old-fashioned camera.
Everything she does with her body language begs me to love her.
What I don’t say to her but I can say to you is this:
trying to put aside a lifetime of neglect is like trying
to reverse photographs, to fade the images from memory
until they are empty squares of milky white clouds.
It’s like trying to pretend you haven’t seen a ghost.
When your mother is aging, it seems cruel to remember
her mistakes, when you know you too are so flawed.
Still, you’d rather hold your breath under water,
each time, a little longer, than reach for someone
that you know can’t swim.
Outside the trees sway the way mourners do.
Soon their leaves will cover everything.
The dog sits at my mother’s feet, waiting to be let out.
She notices him watching her, leans down and stomps
her feet at him in a strange little dance: oh hello!
hello! You love me so much, don’tcha? Don’tcha?