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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Locked Down; Mother’s Day

By: Michael Lasater

Locked Down

You sit in a room, subtracted, stranded –

a knot of words dreamt in fractured sleep.

You avoid risk, avoid touch, avoid even

the flawless afternoon, sensing the darkness

masked by its brilliant façade.

So much has been shattered – so much destroyed –

even the good have been made grotesque.

At first, stunned by grief, you struggled to believe,

comprehending, finally, that belief will have no use

of reason. Then you learned to endure – faceless

avatar – a shadow – memory turned to stone.

Now you allow those things that would destroy you

to become your poem – plague wrapped in words

set ablaze – malignant flame swirling –

false myth burning to ash. You would cry grief to light –

reach for salvation itself – but can only name

what once was and now is not – an absence, a numb silence.

Of this you are certain: at the end of grieving

there will be punishment. Grief will demand an answer.

And yet the day remains.

You begin again, listening to your words, hoping

that by hearing your poem in your own voice

you may learn how to go on. You begin again,

pitying a future in which there can be no innocence,

a future that may never forgive the past.

You begin, following your poem to the place of its making,

to that vanishing point where time and memory reside –

where darkness may be cast back into the night.

Mother’s Day

… the day you died.

Mom’s hollow voice –

the mostly silent drive across

three mostly empty states …

– you – father –

waxed, rouged,

your skin parchment …

They arranged your hands

the way you used to hold them

years ago – a deacon

standing at the end of a pew –

standing – waiting for the offering plate to be passed –

waiting to shuttle it

down the next pew,

back to your partner deacon –

serve – return –

serve – return –

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow …

But you could not sing.

You could not believe.

Holding your open hymnal

you silently traced the words

while others sang, as if

feeling for a pulse –

While others prayed

you mimicked prayer,

barely murmuring – the way

small children do,

shadowing adult speech.

Praise Him all creatures here below …

Mom said, “He looks real natural – like he could just get up and

go to the office. Sandy came in yesterday to trim his hair.

I asked her – how can you work on dead people?

She said – when you touch them, your fear goes away.”

But I could not touch you.

I was afraid –

afraid that if I touched you,

I might wake you from the dream

you had just become –

afraid that if I touched you,

you might then know

that you were dead.

You were the most high-minded,

fierce-tempered, silent man

I have ever known. Only now

do I understand that the part of you

that nurtured and empowered me

was always defined within

your profound estrangement

from so many of life’s

assumed possibilities.

Something there was – something

at the center – that you

could never accept:

or was never granted you.

You could not believe.

You could not.


Michael Lasater is Professor of New Media at Indiana University South Bend. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, Juilliard, and Syracuse University, he has performed as a professional trombonist with ensembles ranging from the Ringling Bros. Circus Band to the Metropolitan Opera, produced nationally distributed video documentaries on poetry and music, and currently exhibits art video internationally. His poetry has appeared in Kansas Time + Place, Heartland!, Cathexis Northwest Press and The Heartland Review, where he is the winner of the 2019 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize.

"Locked Down

I didn’t think that I could write about the brutal, surreal time that is life right now – I thought the subject too present, too hot. But my wife came home one day from a walk around the neighborhood – she had had a COVID-distanced conversation with a friend down the block. 'It’s such a beautiful day,' her friend said. 'But you have the feeling that there’s this darkness behind everything.' That image was compelling. I started pushing words around to see what I might do with it.

Mothers Day

My father died in 1994, my mother in 1997. Even after all these years I am still in conversation with them, especially with my father, a situation so common among male writers as to be nearly a requirement for writing itself. Mothers Day was a long time in the making – so many blind alleys and cul-de-sacs. I was down of those alleys, writing in several directions, when my haircutter told me about working at funeral homes, about her initial fear of working with the dead. A funeral director told her: touch the body, then you won’t be afraid. That cleared the way. The rest of the poem wrote itself."


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