My Mother in America Emails Instructions to the Artist for a Portrait of Her Mother, Now 85 and with Alzheimers

1 March 2018

What I remember,

what I want her to remember
…
 what you can work with

are these:

youth, a lakeside town, routine mornings,

slick footpaths, the open lips

of a lake and muddy banks red

as fish gills, and stones

strangely shaped like …

like turtle heads, and a slow fog

feathering like threadbare scarves

around her hair. This young mother, mine,

has laundry angled on her hip,

has a toddling daughter – me
– 
who’s ahead of her, not very far, but far enough,

like now …

The girl should skip and sway

holding a palo-palo – she promised to be helpful
– 
and a little pail of kittens

for drowning …

For color, don’t hold back

on the green-blue of the lake …

is all I see clearly now really,

but maybe not too clearly now

that I’m old too … If anything,

you can wash it all a blue-grey

since I am only working from fading

clarity … and I understand, your style

is realistic.



Note: a palo-palo is a paddle used for squeezing water out of laundry.

This poem first appeared in Misfit Magazine, 18, 2016

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