How Things Sort Out

How Things Sort Out

My mother looks up at me
from the crook of arm and comforter
and I say, “rest,” and she says, “sometimes,
when I’m lying down, I just can’t help thinking of–”
and I expect her to unspool
some much-wound thread of how
it all turned out okay
in the end, but instead, she says,
“my second grade teacher–”

The comforter is speckled with pink flowers; a stain, I notice, floats just
at the level of chest, a small maroon half-moon,
from who knows when, years–

“the Slapping Machine… and that
poor boy–”

I’ve heard of this teacher before, Mrs. White,
who made the kids memorize bible verses and
slapped them when they did not,
slapped them, it seems, for just about anything–

I’ve heard of the poor boy too, the one who was always
late, and for some reason
was particularly slapped,
especially when he cried,
my mother wanting to shout at
the teacher,
don’t you know he’s crying because his dad’s died,
killed himself when he lost
the family’s farm–

My mother wanting to shout
until the teacher slapped her too,
then made her hold a mirror as she cried,
all afternoon,
so she could see
how ugly she was, tear-marked–

My mother is 91 now
and much of what she once remembered
is clouded, and all the different things she always believed anyhow,
she now proclaims that she read in The New York Times,
though the stories she likes most are her own,
angled with self-promotion, self-

Which can sometimes be kind of irritating; not that we always
butt heads,
but it is hard
to support someone who is busy
propping up themselves, the space filled
with elbows–

Me too liking to self-justify, and how is it that
we carry these mirrors

“Try not to think about it,” I tell her, again patting
the lid of comforter, its sprawl
of small pink flowers over
her folded arms, her own hand now over
one cheek–



This is very much of a draft sort of poem, but I’m busy enough to know that if I keep working on it, I’ll just despair and never put anything up!  So, I’m posting just for me essentially and thanks for your indulgence.

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8 Comments on “How Things Sort Out”

  1. brian miller Says:

    oy. what a teacher eh? and does she even care this is what she is remembered as…ugh…perhaps she will face her own judgement someday…and to have that be the memory coming to your mom as well…ack.

  2. This just tore at my heart, Karin. My own mother had a second grade teacher like that who destroyed her self image until her mother saw her at a class function, cowering. She still bears those wounds and the memories, even in her dementia, and will tell me about it. When I’ve been with the very elderly as they neared end-of-life, those memories surface so frequently. The way you’ve written these details as part of what I imagine to be a death bed scenario or something so similar is such a profound way of expressing the reality of a life as a person faces its ending and shares with the ones they love. Just so very tender.

  3. Polly Says:

    I too knew an elderly woman who at the end of her life recalled a teacher who used a wooden ruler on the back of the children’s hands – like your mother, k, and Victoria’s, the memory was as vivid as if it were yesterday – so sad.

    I like the poem very much – heartbreakingly poignant.

  4. claudia Says:

    ugh – so tough when a teacher treats their students like that… and after so many years the memories are still alive and that says much about the shock it must have been for your mom…ugh

  5. hedgewitch Says:

    Very much you, in this k–your intuitive understanding of humans and ability to tell their stories, and also your writer’s eye for what is important even when it seems slight or peripheral(the stain among the intricate perfection of the floral design, for instance) I do relate to the self-propping up–it’s a very hard temptation to resist, to stand naked in the ruins of your life and not try to justify or defend yourself with all the little mental walls and weapons that we learn to make over the years. The ending of this is just right, resigned, forgiving, knowing–a holy trinity there, if you will.

  6. grapeling Says:

    that sound and red echoes through the years. so poignant ~

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