Heart of Hearts: poem 7

My father’s heart fell victim to heredity… 
Here you will find the rest of poem 9 of the poetry marathon. 

Heart of Hearts
Posted on August 14, 2016 12:02am EST by pgerber

My father’s heart fell victim to heredity four years ago.

The surgeon placed a stent in his aortic valve to brace

the walls and keep the blood flowing.

I imagine the stent shaped like a bridge to strings,

like the one that bolsters the cello

in the corner of my room collecting dust.

But even before that, he couldn’t pass the physical

to join the Korean War–his heart murmured

something the doctors did not like.


My father’s father died of a heart attack, or

maybe complications of diabetes that betrayed his heart.

He was a musician and a piano tuner,

who sometimes imposed a cello lesson on me,

firmly pressing my fingers to the finger board

nearly 45 years ago on that corner resting cello.

All of his 8 sons played musical instruments.


The 21 year old I work with at the sweet shop,

whose name may be Rob or Mike or John,

is someone I would say has a heart of gold,

but for his laziness, though still an amiable sort.

He has a pair of friends, twin brothers, who

come to pick him up from work and take him home.

One told me that Rob-Mike-John had five heart attacks

when he was only a sophomore in high school.

His doctor said he was lucky to be alive.


My mother’s heart is strong, always has been.

Her mind and body are ravaged by demented

disease, forgetting to allow her to live, but her

heart beats resoundingly under her ribs, her doctor says.

And though the cuffs don’t hurt her any more,

too little flesh on her arms, her blood pressure rocks.

Sans word, thought or flesh, she is pure pulsing heart now.

Post Matris Vitae


And I thought to myself, “Where shall we bury her?”

Startled by the sheer absence of an idea, I winced.
Those who never come to see her haven’t a notion

or they would have asked at Thanksgiving dinner.
We buried her so long ago somehow yet there it is,

the question of her final resting place looming large.
A few weeks will bring another birthday celebration

that she passes unaware of her previous 77 years.
And she, stuffed in a back room while we all feasted,

the family she grew and fostered, living as if we know.
Did anyone see her in the shadows of her own wake?

Will anyone mourn the body’s cease post matris vitae?

Yo’ Mama

Daddy makes you dance still though brittle bones merely shake not shimmy.

When you were full bloom and wider than the sprig crouch you are now,

you could swivel your hips light on your feet and in sync with the song.

I didn’t inherit your body’s rhythm but I followed the beat of your words,

those words, shiny and adored, I could tell from the way you caressed them

pouring sweet-tongued in pristine ears framing fresh faces of your charges.

And while sparks sizzle out in your eyes cycling the dead grey matter zones

the heat of your humor and the glee of ironic days are frozen inside your skin,

a dead pan face with little recognition and remembrance of those words sharp,

flying shot gun but pinpoint targeted to prick, tickle and touch those of the world,

not the one you inhabit now, some filmy inchoate plane from once you lifted us,

your children whose words now breathe yours in silent days of stiff witness past.

A silent language heard timelessly is a nurturer’s toil and care, archetypal love

coating countless centuries streaming through bodies perpetuating in birth.

Ripped and rattled, torn and repaired, spited and sorrowed, she reawakens

each day renewed from sleep of the dead spirited with ancestral compulsion

and primal tenderness of urgency, survival, the burden of her species’ thruway.

And when she has been sucked dry of her duty, she sinks in immortal cliché.

Motherhood on Mother’s Day: Let it Be

My Dear Daughters:

   No letter, especially one to daughters, should begin with I’m sorry, but this one does. I’m sorry. Though regrets are a waste of time, I must apologize for your inheritance. No, I don’t mean money. In all likelihood, your fortunes are your own to make. And I know of no genetic medical challenges in store for you in this lifetime. No, this apology comes upon seeing the two of you drive off to lunch together, one tight-lipped and tense, the other tentative and earnest.

You see, dear daughter number two in birth order, you have inherited the portion of your mother’s temperament that ruffles easily when you convince yourself that another has acted poorly or unjustly or incompetently. You do not suffer lightly the effects of others’ actions on your life, irritated at the shortcomings of your fellow beings. You stew. 

To make matters worse, you can’t shake it off. When you decide to change teams and find the coach knows little more than the last one and your teammates are no different, no more skillful or intelligent or cooperative than the last, you simmer, aggravated after a game where the forwards hardly ever anticipate your serves from mid-field and so miss scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity, while the coach fails to instruct and the defense fails to adjust for the deflected offense. 

So you grouch for the rest of the day, angry at your teammates, your coach, but mostly at yourself for having chosen the team, or for even playing soccer in the first place.

And you, daughter number one, I owe you an apology for both your inability to fix your sister and your desire to do so. Like me, you feel discomfort when others display unpleasant emotions, even if  they are mere facial expression. Your sister cannot hide what she feels, though she speaks not a word or a sigh. Her face tells the story–sorry again, second born, for yet another trait passed on. 

And you feel responsible when you are not completely oblivious. Sensitivity is not your strongest attribute. You need to be hit over the head, spoken to directly, told what someone feels, unable to intuit. I gave you that obtuseness. Then when you hear the complaint, the source of woes, compassion turns to anxiety to solve the break, the mood, or problem. 

That anxiety leads to paralysis. Your mind turns foggy with the pressure to create, find an idea. And so you retreat, get disinterested and frustrated. You have no idea what to do to please her, though you try: bribe her with first choice of music in your car or chocolate or a trip to the mall. You try teasing and joking but the list of sorry-I-gave-that-trait-to-you includes stubbornness on her part as it does cluelessness on yours. 

But you know she unwinds in time, flexes her tension and exhales in release when she does, so there’s no rushing through it. The two of you cleave to one another as the best of friends, so you know.

Daughter born first, the days ahead bring many lessons about letting go, acceptance and boundaries, yours in relation to others. Your compassion will hold you in good stead if you never swallow it down in futility rather than acceptance: you can offer but no one has to accept. Perhaps she cannot. That is not your fault. Give, nevertheless, without the expectation of receiving. Help others because others need help, not to get results. You are not here to fix but to try.

Daughter born second, when you too learn to accept yourself, mistakes and all, your moods will calibrate, even out. Your expectations so high for yourself, you project those on to others who cannot meet them. If only you can merely see people, observe them without judging, and accept your strengths and weaknesses realistically without judgment, you may be able to do the same for others. 

The expanding pressure contracts and recedes in the exhaust of toxic release, the poison of fear–of disappointment, not measuring up, and not succeeding–whether aimed at you or others.

You both have a lifetime ahead of procuring patience, and if you get the jump on everyone else, you may discover the secret, the jewel of existence, of slowing down just as time speeds up. If you can, if somehow in cinematic slo-mo you can envision your two hands grab the big hand of the clock, just like when you were little we learned from that interactive picture book with the brightly colored spinning clock hands (blue for the big one and red for the small one) and hold that big boy back with all your might, you better the odds at beating the odds against you–your inheritance. 

Take time, my daughters, to be and let be. She who came after you needs time to work the inarticulable undulations of anger mounted on uncertainty overlaid on the foundation of fear that shift and morph like sea kelp ebbing and flowing with the tide. If you, my first born, breathe slowly, let every drop out before you sip another slow breath in, the extra seconds may allow you the focus, the time it takes for the words to come, the ideas to set you free:  “She is who she is, and I am who I am. Nothing more.”

I am sorry but have no regrets. You two embody the best I have to offer–and more. 

With all my love…
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you know.

A Misty Mother’s Winter Birth Song


On a Winter Solstice morning I carry wood to the fire
and stoke the arcing flame’s urge to obliterate night.
Borean breath burns those bones of trees slant ways
fueling gulps of scorching air borne to the sun’s rays.

Mother-child squats and stares her eyes pierced red
wondering where the winds have taken off the dead.
Her child-mother speaks no more of willow branches.
A baby gone old too, a sooty, sallow skinned witness.

Sheltering arms of her wisdom’s rock a bye morrows
I miss, her torch words of smoked images we chose.
Mother mine of childlike mind your birth was foretold.
Alit on Winter’s day, a searing blame to mothers cold.

With spoken mind’s hibernation, a wintry song is nigh.
Buried deep in fiery sleep is sensor twitching sunrise.
Yet a love surrounds her misty eyed daylight slumber
as Elven sprites spark shards shot of ember’d lumber.

She is my meadow lullaby cracking the icy pines now,
a cataract covered window pane framing a faint brow.
The pitter patterned words of incantations made flesh
are a witch’s brood of progeny, a sweep of stony ash.

The shortest light of the longest night brightens a sky
she never sees anymore in wheel chaired walk a bye.
Maternal flickers of the northern lights in babies’ arms
is left the love encircling a stormy eye’s chaos calmed.

Guest Post: “The Mother as Mistress” by Jim Caron


There is something between a son and his mother that I cannot explain. Some sort of bond that relates to all women, the way men thrive on acceptance from that special female, whether it’s mother or mate. That is the essence of a man, acceptance whether through love or status, it is his most valuable currency in life, rich or poor.
However, there are those men who never leave the scope of the womb, the childhood home, their mother’s sphere. Some men to the point you sense something bizarre, perhaps a bit twisted and fodder for the likes of a Psycho movie or an incest fest.
I see it in that long time schoolmate, Jeff. Through the years, Jeff never moved beyond his mother’s house. You may know the type, never married, still at Mom’s and past 40, never in the company of a woman or significant other male partner. This particular schoolmate lived across the street from my parent’s house. Same age as myself, we attended the same Junior High and High School. I suspect it was his way of acquiring property by simply out living his parents, as opposed to the careers we were steered towards in every class we took together.
He lives there still, alone as far as I can see after driving through the neighborhood recently. Watering the lawn, he stood in the front yard as I went by, smiled and waved as I am wondering what his secret life might be like, what weird twisted kind of sex life he may have. Perhaps one of those guys has sex with pool toys, or maybe cold liver from the meat counter, these choices running through my mind as I’m rounding the corner, I won’t be stopping for a chat.
Howard. His mother dies and he becomes obsessed with psychics in an attempt to relieve something within himself he never vested in, and instead, relied on his mother to provide. He never married, kept to himself, women found him creepy, he was. I still can’t figure the man out. He was the anal sort that would paint outlines of his tools on a peg board in the garage. You would go into the kitchen and open the “junk” drawer and everything in it was carefully arranged. There were also a lot of guns, he liked guns. His mother’s inheritance bought a number of weapons and a truck load of ammo which he and I indulged at the Huntington Beach shooting range on a daily basis.
I became an excellent shot, could hit my mark with most types of pistols shooting with either hand. As with any mistress, first or second string, the newness of Howard’s guns wore off and he realized this new mistress did not provide the warmth and acceptance he received from his mother. Howard was always a geek, the boy all the others teased and made fun of, his mother was able to fix that for him. Despite being the ultimate nerd, Howard constantly proved himself as a talented musician when we were in drum corps, but never gained social acceptance in any circles. Whether in the corps or later on, when he left the army and became that lone hippie geek with the bell on his pants that would wander into my night club, staying all night, barely saying a word. During none of this time did Howard bond with a woman, he was the weird loner who never had a girlfriend, always close to mother, an only child.
A man obsessed with his dead mother, what sort of twisted mistress she must be. His father, was still alive, a cranky old coot that his mother divorced after a public scandal at the Garden Grove City Hall. The head of the recreation department and his secretary caught in a love nest, in the 1960’s it was a death knell, Howard was only 9. The father had a more traditional approach to the mistress concept, Howard bonding with his mother rather than venturing out to seek acceptance from a mate. Howard held his mother in saintly regard, she never remarried or bonded again as far I knew of, so Howard saw her as some sort of “Virgin Mother” and never forgave his father whom he neglected for the rest of the man’s life.
Howard became more sullen and reclusive as he got older, going to the psychic more often and becoming more depressed over the loss of his mother. He did not seek to re-invent himself or look for a new horizon, he chose to whither and so he did. He also began to get pervie, following around girls from my band trying to look up dresses, leering and such that we had to exclude him from events with the band. He began bragging about buying crack whores on Harbor Boulevard. We cringed with disgust, it seemed to empower him as he spoke, watching for our reactions.
Howard then began collecting and keeping high powered weapons, assault rifles, lots of ammo. I remember taking one look at his newest acquisition and deciding to never return to his house again. Why take any chances?
I could look at my own mother and say with assurance she had a power over me I still cannot explain. Not in a sense of love, but of commitment to family, ideals, rules. When it came to these things, for her it was business. I realized only after she died, how much she controlled my young life, her mental power and influence over me. She was more of a specter in life than death, constantly watching and evaluating, wielding nothing other than the wrath of her disapproval. That alone was enough to shake me to the core, far beyond any physical threat or beating my father ever offered. I cannot explain why or recall when she programmed me that way, it was some kind of voodoo, black magic or witchcraft that could subdue me in an instant and far beyond the sting of any corporal consequences.
However, I knew no matter how much trouble I might find myself in, she would come get me, put me back together after accident or idiocy. It seemed to me the essence of the mother son relationship, a relationship I really did not understand until after she died: she owned me, but I needed her too. It was the perspective of death and distance that allowed me to see the relationship for what it was. She was the lawyer that stood between me and the court of life. I could not stay out of trouble, she was the only one could or would fix things and always was. You can’t have that with a wife and keep her respect, maybe her love and sympathy, but not her respect.
That is a vital point for me. I believe this is what men find as the wedge that eventually divides them from their commitment to a wife. Her instincts will see you as weak and your instincts tell you she will, she can say what she wants, but her female senses will change her opinion of you. Let her deny it, but believe it. I think men can be weak with a mistress, cry on their shoulder and get their little boy stuff over, that stuff most guys will cycle through from time to time if they have a cry baby relationship with a woman. If you want respect as a man and a strong image around the house, you have to have good publicity, no scandals or losses that bring you home tawdry and in tears. No matter how she may coddle and cuddle, say she loves and supports you, deep down you are no longer the man she was originally attracted to. Admit it girls, admit it guys, I think we’ve all had an episode here and there to demonstrate the truth of Motherly or Mistress acceptance as opposed to a wife’s long term, true respect. It’s just how a man has to play it, if he is too weak to cultivate his mate, their situation, the currency of their relationship, he will face the same losses or success any man might find in business. You get what you pay for and invest in.
I would conclude by asking again, what power is it in a son that a mother holds? It is certain to be a testament to those things that bond us beyond what we can see. I know it’s true. Men dying on the battlefield call for their mother, it is a universal thing at those moments. What home is it in a mother that men find? Acceptance beyond your weakest moments, forgiveness for failures, those things you can’t take back or fix. Being given another chance, a place to hide, regroup to fight again. Seems these are the same things a man might seek in a mistress, but never in a wife. She would judge him as a weak partner and it will eventually manifest in her feelings towards him. Women can get very cynical about a mate over the years and I believe this is where most husband complaints find their origination, moments of failure and weakness. It’s Darwinian in some strange way, I prefer to believe and follow these concepts rather than depend on the superficial words of those trying to be polite or are unaware of the forces that drive their thoughts and words.

Mistress Memory: the Mother Mime


An undeniably aching yet slumbering craving, she must fall back endlessly, eyelid-enwrapped orbs unable to keep her consciousness, which slips down into the darkness with claws still clutching and inscribing their twitching seismographic indentations in the eyeballs as the arms of it, consciousness, stretches wincingly, impossibly lengthened for the body to lie in the depth of darkness. She goes deep.

I speculate that she is not falling, implying a misstep, away from her conscious self but has turned and run. Who wouldn’t? Her life has been hard. She was neglected by an unloving mother, one who was abused herself by cruel parents. Her father was a specter who haunted the apartment, manifesting a physical man on payday. Her mother rarely cooked for her or comforted her or advised her of the dangers of the world. No, she was left on city corners at 4 years to find her own food, hoping that the mothers and men entering the five and dime would offer her something without her having to ask. And they would ask her with irritable concern, “Where is your mother?!” and feeling ashamed, she would make up a story that her mother was sick.

But no documented illness kept that mother from cleaning and feeding her baby. Embarrassed and unkempt that child was with untamable kinky hair that refused a brush even if one were offered it, and a sizable gap in her two front teeth. She was scrawny and sallow, though with sharp, slit-eyed hazel-glistening maturity and wit. She was a meerkat.

Eventually poking her head above the layer of grimy gutter life, she cleaned herself up and then mistook love for sex. Knocked up and married at 16, she merely survived a childhood of neglect to enter into an adulthood of abusive banality and benign ignorance. She married, like her mother before her, a ghost of an unfinished man, a workaholic incapable of appreciating the finer things in life–books, art, mystery, passion, and romance, namely: her.

But he gave her a family. Children salved the sore of scooping up in arms love she missed out on. Only, to overcompensate for her own shadow life, she spent every moment caring for, thinking about, worrying about and attending to her inevitably affected children of greed, helplessness and jealousy. She fed them too much, cleaned them overly, loved them enough but not enough for the canyon of need she created in them to be the sole capturing eye of the gaze of her great giving.

She raised them. They came to visit on weekends with their growing families when they themselves grew up and away, but she, heliotropic, contorted her body reaching for the circling sun of her prodigals who, in turn, rounded back to her, their heat center for hot food, unconditional love and sound advice. Warmed and wiser, they left her withered in the waiting for their eventual return. Until they didn’t.

So long as she could give, they came. When she could no longer give–her core cold like the moon’s with her shine a borrowed reflection–they stared and stammered and shivered in unimaginable loss and fear.

She forgot how to make the dishes everyone loved from the recipes passed down from her grandmother, the only woman who cared for her but left her only too soon, days before her fourth birthday. Dishes that made home–their home–like blintzes and pirogies and beef stew, were irretrievably lost because her children forgot to ask her how to make them. She couldn’t remember how any of them started, though she made them hundreds of times over her 75 years.

Nail biting in isolating anguish, her children suffered alone, for she did not understand what everyone noticed. Her husband alternately shrugged and shook fists at the sky. No one knew what to do with her. When she could no longer speak, they stopped coming. But she could see; she could hear. And for many years she still could.

Trapped in her muddled thoughts so long, wasting away, her body dis-remembering how to process food into fat or even how to chew and swallow, she closes her eyes now like no one has ever closed a pair of eyes before–her face drawn in by the corners of its angles of cheek bone to chin, skin sucked tightly to skull–and exhales.

No, she is not expired. She is pure unconscious desire now, streamlined to her essence and sinking into the only place she was ever going to anyhow. She succumbs to the lure of the lover and beloved, and it is a release like no other in her candlelit dusty life.

She opens her eyes again, and the illusion is gone. I can no longer see the purpose and direction, imagine the lilting lie of the siren’s song, “Come to me, my mistress and be my Penelope awaiting her king’s return. Rest in my bosom, my touch, my caress.”

This is how I cope these days with the agony of her slow decade-long disappearance.  I imagine she is on a mythic sea voyage, sailing the still waters of slow afternoon noddings, drifting down into the arms of her self-embrace and so engulfed in the arms of the loving mother that she was born to be and always will be.

I stare into the searchingly bewildered eyes mirroring a woman focusing her lenses, and see me. There it is! The three second connect, her recognition marked by the eye twinkle and quick spasm flash of an upturned corner of her mouth, the missile memory launched in my direction absorbed by the heat of my desire. “Hi Mom.”

The sound distracts her. Her eyes move off mine in the direction of where she thinks the sound came from, the cataract gaze returned. I look away. I pick up my keys and move to the door, glancing back briefly before touching the handle. Her eyes cannot follow me at this distance. I walk out the door. It’s time to pick up my daughter from school.