The Poetry of Rebecca Kavaler

Distinguished Entry 2006

What My Mother Told Me Only money has enduring value, she said, and removed her dentures. I stare at the bed with its white chenille spread. at the effigy the memento mori my mother resting in state on her catafalque. She is already too thin to make a mound. You are young, she accused me, you still believe in the hegemony of the flesh but I tell you the spirit is stronger and the spirit is money, waxing as the body wanes. I never listen to my mother. She calls them home truths but I left home long ago. Have you noticed, she rambled on, how weightless money has become since those early days of Yap stones, of porcine jawbones? It took no genius, I agree, to see the need for something more portable. Yes, she nodded, coins of shiny metal engraved with the portrait of rulers, something to bite down on. She paused as if waiting for the antistrophe or was it the rhetorical effect of pain? Yes, I say, to assure her I am listening, yes after so many years of no. Nice jingle in the pocket , her thought continued to pick its way through the thicket of painkillers. But cumbersome in the carrying. Paper is lighter, I agree, though we have to take it on trust, a hard reach for most of us. And now, she capped me, we have the pixelated ether of the computer screen, the animus, the breath of wind that has been called our soul, the spiritus sancti of our great amen. I teeter in the doorway, half in half out as I have always been in this house. The first time I left I swore I would never come back. When she leaves, she will be more steadfast Isn't it odd, she gummed, when money grows at a compound rate, we call it profit but when the flesh does the same we use a nastier name. I do not answer. To what she has, the doctors say, there is no answer. When your father left me–she glared at me as if I were the cause— I thought the world had ended. It had just begun. Why is it that I could pass on to you intact this accident of a face, length of bone, color of eye but nothing of the life-wisdom I have acquired? That would have served you better than your father's good teeth. I thank my father for the teeth, clamp them shut. It is not easy, these constant flights, coast to coast, so close on the heels of the sun that only two hours will pass between departure and arrival. From the moment I lift my baggage from the carousel I feel the gravity of time standing still much as I did as a young girl imprisoned here on the top floor, a Rapunzel awaiting rescue from a tower. I didn't have the hair but I had the will. What will become of you? was her dismissal, you with your dead-end job and dead-end men. (This old woman without her teeth still has a bite.) I've given you good advice, not that you heed it. You still have your looks but they will soon leave you. Then you will see –her last words to me as she turned off the light— everything leaves you. It's not that way with money: it's you who do the leaving.