When my mother hated me, she left and drove.
Once, with a blizzard blowing in, she won
two tickets to the symphony; she’d stopped
a mile away and called the radio to name
a piece by Liszt. She recognized returning
as an art, practiced by leaving. She played
the piano rarely, said she’d never played
with grace, so taught instead. Her students drove
for miles, carrying folded music, returning
years later with stories of scholarships they’d won.
And those who can’t do, teach. I learned the name
of every note, the sharps and flats; but stopped
just short of music, started over, stopped
again at thirteen, claiming Bon Jovi played
better than Van Cliburn. I’d learned to name
distance with music, although I only drove
my mother to smile, the fight already won
by age. I would grow up, she’d keep returning
from leaving, like a fugue’s anger returning
to conscious quiet. One summer night she stopped
and bought two pints of ice cream; vanilla won
against staying gone, she said, as if she’d played
both hands. She never did say where she drove.
We knew the world inside was too vast to name,
so fled it. Before I could tell time, she’d name
an hour two piano lessons, turning
all distance into sound. My mother drove
a lesson more before we stopped;
my role was waiting while the time was played
in treble fields and roads until sleep won.
Stretched out across the backseat that I’d won
by default as the only child, I’d name
the constellations silently re-played
outside the glass each night, as if returning
were recital for a better leaving.
I learned its movements while my mother drove.
She and I never won the game that drove
us; never dared to name the song that really stopped
us; how our hearts played allegro con spiritu returning.
--Mortal Geography, Persea Books, 2010