Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
I was at my father’s side when he died. It was the worst day of The Nepotist’s life. So traumatic was my father’s death, so noisy the machines that were trying and failing to keep him alive, so out of the realm of all heretofore experience was this singular and (quite literally) breath-taking event that I swore a vow to myself and the vow was this: That I never needed to watch a person die again. So when my mother died several years after that, I sat alone in the next room while the rest of the family gathered around her bed to sing her into heaven. I only just barely survived my father’s passing. To watch his mother pass from life into death was more than The Nepotist could endure.
I tell this story as a prelude to introducing Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s work because these impressive poems force me to reconsider not so much my failure as a son to my mother in her final moments (though surely, that I was), but how, perhaps, by not bearing up my grief and mustering the courage (yes, courage) to escort her to the next life’s front door, I excised from the experience any blessings the most compassionate act of keeping vigil might have bestowed upon me (for surely, that I did).
These are humbling, poignant, important poems.
Today I spit into my hand and blessed
my mother. Traced a salivary cross
upon her dry brow. It caught the winter
light like chrism on an infant’s new skin.
Bliss of my mother’s touch, my origin—
this grief a lost daughter’s only gesture.
I’ve unlearned how to love that dear body,
the arms that held us and the lips that kissed,
showed us all how to love all that’s lovely.
I’ve taught my heart the ways she won’t be missed,
though I know such delusions just delay
the truth I hear my traitor tongue say,
Forgive the faithless daughter I have been,
as I bless my blesséd mother yet again.
Out of the dark O of her mouth
slipped my mother’s soul.
Her cheek bone
hard as soap stone,
sleek as satin.
Her head slid slow
down the slope of her pillow.
Her face shone
a half moon,
from the hall.
She was here,
she was there.
She was no where
Her closed eyes gazed
at nothing in the gloom.
no more there,
for the tomb.
and snow falls again.
Since 4 I’ve been keeping watch.
The sky pearled with cloud,
each limb limned thick,
snow white as water, weight of earth.
and all night long
poems shushed past my ears,
the sound of an embryo’s heart.
I must be quick to catch them
as they pass through
my many-mansioned mind,
ghosts I chase but cannot find.
another poem about you.
About the Poet:
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell teaches English, Creative Writing, and American Catholic Studies at Fordham University in New York City. Her publications include a recent collection of poems, Moving House (Word Press, 2009), and chapbooks Mine (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Waiting for Ecstasy (Franciscan University, 2009). In 2011, Word Press will publish her second full-length collection, Saint Sinatra.
On the identity of The Nepotist:
I believe You are a He (I'm quite sure of that, somehow)--and in addition to being Friend-ly, your voice is very Familiar to me. I believe you and I have spoken face to face--indeed, broken bread together--and a very enjoyable conversation and bread-breaking it was.