“Impossible” by Erica Funkhouser

I watch my mother’s nearly century-old foot
search for the curb from the street.
No mammal has ever hunted as hungrily
as the rounded toe of this mouse-colored zip-up sneaker.
Is this it? Is it here?
When the second mouse is finally level with the first,
she taps the granite curbstone
with her cane. There.
We’re on our way to the hearing aid store.

Afterward, in a sandwich shop,
the young mother at the next table
asks the waitress for a few leaves
of spinach — her son would like to sample it
before he orders lunch.
My mother is of the “kids should eat what you put
in front of them” school, definitely of the
“kids don’t go out to lunch” school.
The disappearance of home life in this country
is her chief complaint after joint pain
and the thinness of the Red Sox bullpen.

Stone-faced as Buster Keaton,
she waits for her egg salad sandwich
and listens as the earnest woman coaxes her son
to say spinach in Spanish.
My mother doesn’t like the word espinaca.
She doesn’t like Spanish any more than she likes English.
She thinks the world is full of foolish mistakes
that must be faced with composure.

Like a character out of silent film,
she points to what she wants, puts her hat on
when it’s time to go.
In the face of adversity, she’s an acrobat,
one eyebrow lifted in perpetual surprise.
A building is about to fall down on her,
a train about to crush her,
and this is her expression: What next?
What will they think of next?

Years have been spent interpreting this gaze,
fighting over its significance, competing to discover
the secrets contained in her perfectly level lips.
Mouth like a line drawn straight through a word.
What are words but little corrections
of what needn’t have been spoken at all?
Spinach. Espinaca. What next?

She doesn’t laugh but she makes me laugh,
her deadpan disapproval thrilled with its new material.
She’s not going to tell it now, but she has one story.
When she was in high school, her father
drove her to Pittsburgh to watch Babe Ruth play.
There’s one other thing she might mention.
For this, if you are family,
she will offer up her shapely ankle,
where a dozen BB pellets have been lodged
for nine decades. “My own brother shot me,”
she’ll say as you marvel at the dark constellation
swirling beneath tissue-thin skin.
“A mistake, of course,” she’ll add.  Then a pause:
“One of many.”


Site name: Gwarlingo

Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser

Raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica Funkhouser studied at Vassar College and Stanford University. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including: Earthly (Houghton Mifflin, 2008); Pursuit (2002); Sure Shot and Other Poems (1992); and Natural Affinities (1983). She was a recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation grant for poetry. She has also worked as a playwright. She lives in Essex, Massachusetts and teaches poetry-writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.