Poem Therapy 2:27 P.M. April 11, 2012: Lucky - Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,
amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child
to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy
because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language

I held my breath reading this poem.

The last stanza redeems with its cobbled type of love. A love made of commonality that will redeem us all, no matter the wound, no matter its depth.

I remember being instructed as a child to turn the other cheek, that it is imperative to pray for our enemies. For a very, very long time, my prayers were more of a litany of curses.

I am grateful for my wounds, for what they have made of me, or I of them.

I have told myself many lies, and believed them. I have bargained with my anger and outrage, telling the rational room in my brain house
that nothing is personal, even if it is.

This day, my prayer is that when, in this life, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to help my enemies, I will have the strength and the courage to not exact my small revenges.

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