Psychic Imprints

Tell me a story…
Muvva, tell me some stories.

The sensitive child
Vying for attention
Repeatedly requests

Perched on a kitchen chair
Rusty gold, old and trusted feline
Tapping     tapping
At the spirits in the hem of her robe
Hastily draped over her knee
Unexpected guest
To view the new arrival

The alteration in the pitch and tone of
Her voice tries to bring order to
The chaos of cackling children.

There is joy. JOY!

Marching orders administered:
Don’t mess up that room!
And ignored.

The child offers comfort:
Don’t worry, Muvva, I’ll help you…
I’ll help you clean up…
I’ll buy you a house.

Amused, she chuckles, caringly
Absolves the child in her reply:
That’s OK.

Happily vows
To do it anyway

Conversations between generations
At the kitchen table
Alchemy and affirmations bring
The childless father
To this place
Centered       focused     satisfied
Receiving the Universe’s blessings
Delivered by angels
Nestled on his shoulders
Spirits jump across
Threads of time
This the second decade virus
Once benign at 203
Turns malignant at 189

No cause for alarm
Legacies left in writings on walls
In whispered phrases
Parenting, parenting
All over the place.

The mother: Child, I have secrets to tell.
The son: I’m listening.

Throughout the exchange they realize
They both feel the same way about
Within each is stored secrets
And lessons learned
Life and death and rituals
The irony

We two     the mother     the son
Listen and wait
For the echoes in trees
Gnarled, weather-worn
Branches holding spirits
Let us touch you so you can talk to us

The mother expresses her joy
In watercolors
The son
In poetry

The mother: You’re my angel!
The son: I’m just trying to earn my wings.
Computer screensavers record their mantras:
Sheila, take back your power…

Michael, remember the possibilities…

One spring afternoon the son asks:
How do you bounce back so often? What’s your secret?
The mother replies:
I just love waking up in the morning
Just seeing a new day
Listening to the birds sing and
Looking at the trees.

The son smiles.

© B.Michael Hunter 2000

“Psychic Imprints” was published in Other Countries III: Voices Rising, 2007.

Earlier versions of his poem, with annotations from circa six months before he died.

When Mommy Breaks Down

when mommy breaks down
you scour the bathroom
scrub the floors
wash the windows
do the laundry
dust the living room
change the light bulbs
when they burn out
clean the kitchen
buy the food and cook
for yourself and mommy broken

you walk through the house
trying to be air
as if the floors were hot coals
broken glass
or a bed of needles

you speak at a volume just right
tone emotionless
watch the news
late-night talk shows
the late movie
listen to the radio
at a volume so low you could hear
mommy’s breath in the next room
and you read about history
about triumph
about life

you go to school
on time
late or not at all
but you always do well enough
so mommy would not have
to leave the house
‘cause you know mommy shouldn’t leave the house
and when she does
you are always by her side
at the bank
(you wonderin’ where
she got the check to cash
in the first place)
at the doctor’s office
the pharmacy
some relative’s house
by her side
she needing
to lean

when mommy breaks
you break
into fragments
but if you are to survive
your blood must become glue
‘cause you must pull it together

you look into her eyes
around you and guess
guess if she needs a blanket
something to eat
the tv channel or radio station changed
or it turned on or off
any sign of life
while all the plants in the house die
or try to
but you can’t let them
so you take care of them too
you answer the phone
“oh she’s not in”
or “oh she’ll call you right back”
or “oh she’s sleeping”
or “oh she’s…”
you leave your friends
at the door
and it doesn’t even matter
what you tell them

‘cause teenage noise
would certainly disturb mommy
or you
or the stillness
and someone
something should explain
the quiet

“why is mommy…”
who cleaned the house
worked every day
raised four kids
single-handedly while going to college
bought food
gave you and every one
such good advice
“why is she so broken”
so you go through the house
looking for clues

you find papers
you read them all
between and behind every line
you uncover
pictures books pieces of the puzzle
and lies

you ask questions
actually you only ask one
at a time
or maybe one a day
or week
or month
‘cause you don’t want to
wipe away her
surely-to-follow tears

you listen
she tells you everything
a burden lifted
she tells you
‘cause you asked
‘cause there is not noise in the house
‘cause it seems that you and she are
the only living things
and you hear yourself repeating
“it’s alright
everything will be alright”

you listen
she tells you everything
a burden lifted
she tells you

‘cause you asked
‘cause there is not noise in the house
‘cause it seems that you and she are
the only living things
and you hear yourself repeating
“it’s alright
everything will be alright”

you go to school
join a club
the track team
run in circles
for miles
a natural high
you are good
but you never excel
that would mean mommy
would have to talk to the coach
about allowing you to go out of town
to this meet or that meet
then he too might ask why
she doesn’t come to a meet
to see how wonderful you are

“you explain things so well
you have so much insight
you’re so mature
so thoughtful
so kind
so different” people tell
you thank them all
smile not too wide
‘cause even the best glue
won’t hold together
if you pull too hard
stretch emotions
too far

your vision becomes narrow
your horizon small
and all you remember is mommy
head bent
shoulders round
sitting in a chair
or on the side of a bed
you remember your mother
without you
you think
without you where would she be
what would happen

so you build a wall
a very tall wall
so impregnable
so high no one is able to climb
look over
or get through
it protects you
or traps you
or traps and protects you
it’s in your face
your eyes
your mouth
your gait

yet men approach you in the streets
women approach you in the streets
then the streets approach you
you wonder how
everyone and everything know
you need so much
but you never asked for help
you are mommy’s
little helper

© B.Michael Hunter 1989

“When Mommy Breaks Down” was first published in The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets, Ed. Assoto Saint, 1991, which won a Lambda Literary Award the following year; and later in Boyhood, Growing Up Male: A Multicultural Anthology, Ed. Franklin Abbott, 1993. In a letter to Abbott, B.Michael offers some important context for his poem.