Still Life with Mother

After Diane Seuss

My mother’s straddled atop a hydrant, 
her legs draped over the shield of the iron tap
each with its white ruffled sock. My eyes

are in love with her as they are with all
enchantments that cannot escape being con-
jured. She’s there to be seen if I want to see her,

as she was there in her floral butter-
wick apron. I was sixteen and she asked
if I would cook. “Do you want to learn to make sauce?”

she asked. Was it the mother? The escape artist?
My poor mother was deeded the imminent call.
She doesn’t look like she’s leaving, whatever it was

she was cooking up. She handed me a wood spoon.
As I write this, a notification pops up on my lock 
screen, “VOICES Together: A Virtual Gathering of the 9/11 Community.”

“Yes,” I said, “You can show me.” She said, “You have to 
brown the pork, add crushed tomatoes, paste, a bay leaf.” 
She washes the cans with Chianti. “A pinch 

of sugar.” Pepper, oregano, garlic, simmer, I don’t recall 
the metrics or if I secretly wanted to study history 
with Donald, but thought that “yes” was the only response,

or if I believed I should want to tie on an apron,
I think I assumed that my time with her could make 
my mother linger, and this lesson was all we had,

as if I’m hedging some sort of investment in
futures for what I wasn’t seeing then, and so, 
I lowered the heat, and simmered the sauce, hence

this little girl, suspended, wheat-blonde waves poodled in 
pigtails, her playful eyes, who reminds me of my sister 
when she was eight, when mother received the news

after a breakdown, it was metastatic breast cancer.
Young, fiery, her long browned and shining hair
falling to the sink. I didn’t want to see, 

and yet I saw. But the young girl, I am in love with her 
oversized denim culottes, the floppy, double
rolled cuffs, the look over her crouching shoulder,

and her glorious sparkle, angelic, poised
as if she could leap through the lens, forth,
forward, into the opening.

© 2022 by Deborah Garcia, All rights reserved

About this poem:

This ekphrastic poem is written as a homage to my late mother, Lizzie, on the occasion of her 79th birthday. The photo of my mother as a little girl resting on a fire hydrant in a leaping position, is one that I see every day. Framed, on an antique wash stand in my home, it gives me great delight. The glance over her shoulder, staring through the lens feels like a charm, compelling me to leap into the opening of the day, despite not knowing the metrics.

Borrowing Diane Seuss’ composition style in “Still Life with Turkey,” in which she weaves a dark tale with the image of the classic painting by Chardin, I exercised this technique to weave a personal tale of reminiscence and lament, through the bending light.

Elizabeth Rieb née Teseny: September 22, 1943 – January 20, 1982

Photo credit: Personal archive. c. 1951 – Likely taken by my grandfahter, Gus (FKA Géza) Teseny, outside of their Manhattan apartment on East 90’s Street.

7 Comments on “<i>Still </i> Life with Mother”

  1. 39 years is an awfully short time to walk the earth. My mother died at 49 and I’ve always considered that a massive rip off. My father, still living, has continued another 38 years without her. Who gets to decide who lives?

  2. Love this tribute to your Mom. Very tender and bittersweet, as you also punctuate with the shock of the notification on your Lock Screen, the sadness of what you are living through, but the joy of being with your mother and sharing a recipe. A nice balancing of emotions – sadness, joy, haloed in nostalgia. Beautiful.

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