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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

66; Clay; How to Lose a Mother

By: Bruce Arlen Wasserman


The flakes emerged from rocks

tumbled in winter avalanches

that show in the salt of summer

like yesterday’s scramble over

boulders 7,000 feet above

the sea, miles beyond the view

of canyons tumbled down vertigo

cliffs and the lack of wavesong

covered by a silence of circling

wings and the tiny songbird that

found a crack in a trunk to squeeze

into and the rarified air playing

its own kind of jazz that poets

hear while deer dusted trails exist

as things to make every day like

sunrise for 20 hours or the O2

in air like a bake of apples

crusted and waiting to cool

and bites of ice cream

hidden delight like night

like bitter cold on hot steam

and the pleasing of pie to an eye

and every step raises dust and flies

loop lazy in the breeze and this

abandonment just loses language


As Ray Charles croons

the moist days of Georgia as the red clay that Alabama

sows to potters’ fingers is thrown and every bit as pink as

sunburn yet brown as the fleshed

earth ought to be and those lovely

hues overtake our tunes instead of

seeing inequality as souls speak every

sense of mind and tongues wager the last

of each day’s wages and the story of a place grows in solitude and slaves’ hands remember

numerous unmarked graves and rope burns

burn like pyres alighting the faze of horizons and each mark that’s made goes down in the dawn

of passing ruins each rising to the earth yields

some kind of fleshing going off and we wonder

don’t they learn from old experience and is every

move so worth repeating and each step something

to be seized over and over rolling till tired clay breaks

down from substance into grit that scratches fingers

that leaves little lacerations and empties

like just so many pissing pieces?

How to Lose a Mother

Wait until her 94th birthday

or any other day or wait

for some kind of long-lost email

you never remember to send

& forget to call because you are just

packed full, then the text from your sister

to say there’s been a fall, a sudden

cardiac arrest or stroke with just a strain

of breathing not revived & almost

stable at the hospital so there’s still

a little time to cram now urgent flight

to wish her happy birthday & forget

you’ve been less than present &

the frequency of calls has declined

to not at all because she always asks

when are you coming? or says

I miss your face which reminds the

distant placing of your life

an investment that’s failed like batter

left too long to rise or the wrong flour

labeled gluten-free & the counter

at LAX lined like arms of tens of junkies

that never made the cut & you stand

slap-spined like a chef too drunk to chop

& the pan’s on fire, burnt to crispy toast

& the life you live has lost its feeling

lost its love & memories, like apnea

with every other breath & a pitch-thick

room echoes the Polish you never learned

to please her Slavic soul & the

words you dreamed but couldn’t speak

& the stumbling blind way you’ve

walked on borrowed feet & her

painful to hear rasping breath tearing

the padded sack from off your heart

like a book with a broken spine

or the poem you drafted then shifted

to the bottom of a pile, the pitch that makes

darkness fly through veins without saying

anything but the sloshing splashing walls.


Bruce Arlen Wasserman assembled his first poetry manuscript at the age of seventeen and later farmed and worked as a blacksmith in his twenties and as an editor before and through his first graduate degree program. In 2016, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his short story was a semi-finalist for the 2017 Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers. In 2020, he was named the second-place winner of the Anna Davidson Rosenberg 2019 Poetry Award.

Bruce received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. His writing has been published in the Proverse Poetry Prize Anthology, The Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The River Heron Review, Kindred Literary Magazine and Broad River Review. He is a literary critic for the New York Journal of Books and the Washington Independent Review of Books and a Graduate Assistant at the MFA in Writing program of VCFA. His fiction manuscript, The Aroma of Light, was a finalist with LSU Press and is currently represented by Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.

Bruce creates visual art as a potter ( where he draws from the reservoir of poetry and his experience in working iron and wood, correlating a continued exploration of language, function and esoteric form. At other times he performs as a musician in a band, train horses on occasion and is a dentist in clinical practice.


The poem was birthed during a hike on the Colorado high country, the perspective offered by the macro and microscopic views brought an urgency to gather my observations into the kind of cohesive mass that makes up any poem. This poem was a short recording of a longer venture into

a rarified environment. The challenge from the experience was to bring back an artifact that would allow a reader to dip into and take away a sense of that experience.


As a potter, the engagement I feel when handling wet clay forms a base for other experience. This poem is steeped in that warm mud. And just as a potter works in a kind of struggle with the material to form his vessel, this poem is intended to be a vessel to bring to light the struggle that has perpetually fought inequality and that still finds the challenge of its persistence something that defies sense and works against nature in the same way that overworked clay will break down into component grit, losing the elasticity that creates its ability to be identified as clay.

How to Lose a Mother:

No one is ever ready to lose a parent. That is likely because we spend our time as adults creating our own identities, which, sadly, distances the bonds we have with those responsible for creating our firm footing in life. Our parents were there when we toddled and stumbled, when we “grew up” and found our own way, one step at a time. They held our hands when we needed support and administered family justice, as well, yet they are rewarded by becoming further and further from our view. This poem is the reckoning of that phenomena in my own life as I dealt with the loss of my mother—first from the stroke that hospitalized her and ultimately, from her lack of will to live a fractured life after the stroke, and her reckoning with that and peace.

More difficult has been my own attempt to be satisfied with my lack of presence—prior to the stroke—even if I would be called a “good son,” by some. I also see the poem as an outreach to others, a reminder that this day is the perfect time to reconnect with those who have given the impact of love and support in our lives and to give back some of what we have received, while there is still opportunity."


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