Debra Marquart

Poem for My Mother on Her Birthday -- September 27, 2007

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Gladys, 1946
Greyhound Days

because your mother is the typhoid Mary

of travel, because lightning, blizzards, cyclones,

everything but locusts plague her travel days,


because that one time in Minneapolis,

some pilot-error, failed engine part, or threat

of nuclear disaster necessitated an overnight


stay, she will not fly.  Too often she recalls

the cold shuttle ride to the strange hotel,

no pj’s, toothbrush, clean undies, or sleep,


where all night she watched the green hinge

click of digits until the three am wake-up call.

Besides, why drive to Bismarck to catch


a westbound plane for Bozeman that must first

go east to Minneapolis? So it’s Greyhound

for her, and this day after Christmas, the drop-off


drive to the truck stop terminal on the unlit edge

of town, where we stamp our feet and puff,

waiting for the Greyhound in the snowy dark


with the goth girls and the tattooed boys,

with the gaunt-cheeked, the luggage-less,

the chain smoker, and that one young mother


who’s been criss-crossing the country

with her two toddlers and a colicky baby

since your own Greyhound days.  You realize


at the purr of the diesel engine approaching,

at the grinding downshift of gears and the chirp

of airbrakes, before the door folds unfolding


and passengers disembark, you realize,

that you do not want to let your mother go

alone into this high northern night


through mountain passes, frozen wheat fields,

and oil rigs pumping their thin elbows

in the darkness.  But she grabs the nearest


passenger, the scruffy-bearded, nose-pierced

boy with jet-black hair dyed just like yours

was in the eighties and begins to drill him—


Is it warm on the bus? Are there seats available?

Is the driver nice? —which he answers, tossing

his smoke to the sidewalk in a splash of sparks


which makes you realize your mother

would be an excellent person to have along

at a rock concert or the holocaust or any


other natural disaster, this survivor, who grabs

her floral bag to board not looking back,

as you watch her through the smoky glass,


moving down the aisle, checking each seat

row by row, with those eyes that always

saw everything, until she chooses the best one,


left hand side, near the driver, and stashes

her bag overhead, never once looking back

at you, down below in the cold, waving goodbye,


be careful, safe travels, love you, even as the driver

settles in and she leans forward to chat,

dark silhouette of her hand on the headrest,


even as he grinds the gears, undoes the brake,

turns off the interior lights and the bus jerks

to a start, you realize you are still waving


at the darkness, waving at the darkness now

in the spot where you imagine she must be sitting.


                         --Debra Marquart


Poem for my mother on the occasion of her birthday because the real present I ordered didn't arrive on time.