19 November, 2009

Arizona Sun

My mother calls me
and asks
if the sun is shining. That’s
how I know
it’s winter in Ohio
and the gray wooly clouds
have invaded her skies
like airships
in bad sci-fi remakes.
I hear the Midwestern chill
in the tone of her voice –
that certain tightness, that
particular unconscious act
of conservation. Lethargy in the face
of the arctic winds, the wet sticky snow,
the black ice on the roads and
the frost on the windshield; I remember
being old enough to turn on the car
so the engine would be warm enough
to run the heater and having to
scrape the windows so Mom or Dad
could brave the winter without feeling it
in their fingertips. But here

the sun always shines and it hardly ever rains
and the morning chill that moves in with the snowbirds
burns off by midday. Natives are easy to spot
because 60 degrees is too cold
and 50 degrees makes them
break out the laundered heavy jackets,
the pristine scarves and brightly colored boots
that would never survive
a morning after the snow trucks
pushed gray ugly slush
in front of the driveway.

When my mother calls
we talk about the weather
and she threatens to retire to the desert
or maybe to Florida because the beach
is nice sometimes. I tell her
Arizona doesn’t need any more snowbirds
that it’s crowded enough
with pensioners and the ones who were lucky enough
to retire and still be able to afford
a decent set of golf clubs, cable television,
and a nice little place in 55 and Older Community
guarded by big metal gates that don’t guard anything
but allow the management company or the realtor
to pad the price. I tell her
there’s no more west to lament and that
there are now more cowboys
to cry over and that
the beauty of the sunset
has been erased by neon lights and street lamps
and the never-ending lines of cars on choked interstates
and bypasses. I tell her
this is not a place
that’s beautiful at a distance; that
it requires a careful and myopic eye
to appreciate it
and the sun burns everything
except those quaint pictures
taken by tourists whose vision
was myopic to begin with.

She asks me
Do I like my work?
and I say
I like it fine, that
the writing is going fine. No, she says.
She means my job:
the one that pays, the one she can explain
to my relatives who thought me mad all those years ago
and to the people she runs into
who knew me when I was 10
before the itch set in
before the darkness took shape
and I became something
entirely different
from what was intended. I tell her
I want to quit. I say
The institution is dead,
the ideals evaporate under the sun and in the hands
of unimaginative bean counters. I tell her
writing is The Thing
and that someday
she will be the mother
of a famous writer; a famous poet
whose language echoes
the death and rebirth of scorched landscapes
and broken, abandoned dreams.

She chides me
semi-gently; for I have always been
her son the poet, the sensitive boy
born too fragile for the world, the
prodigal son who is never as lost
as it seems, but who, at the right moment,
will let himself be found – but only
for a blink—
just long enough
to fool her into hoping
I have finally grown up
and have finally become
a son she can brag about
in the same sentence
as my brother.

She tells me things she thinks
my Dad might say
if he were alive and if
I were still listening,
as it is in the world she makes
in her imagination. It frustrates me:
this attempt to direct me
when all I really wanted to talk about
was the weather and the seasons
and the palm trees that always appear
one day closer to dying
like an army of intentionally placed indigents
lining the streets. But it’s not in me
to tell her off. Besides, it won’t help.
People see what they want to see
and will make the world
whatever they want it to be
and mother’s generation
has shaped things quite conveniently
and she
though she loves me (as only a mother can)
will never see
the things I have seen
and she will never understand
where I have been
or who I am … unless,
perchance, she reads my poems
and allows herself, for a moment
to forget
I am her son. I tell her
I love her and I say
I will talk to her soon. Then
I hang up the phone and step outside to smoke.
(She hates when I smoke while talking to her.)
The sun is setting
and the sky is clear
and all the things
left unsaid fade
into the brief shadow
between sunset and
the dull illumination
of neon lights.