by Andrew Bertaina
I asked her what had been the best memory of her life, and she said, after a pause, while the dust settled in the cobwebbed light, and a starling alighted in the boughs of an apricot tree outside, while the television tried to sell us an extremely effective brand of glue, and while my child played with a Transformer in the next room, while I breathed in deeply, while gravity kept pressing down on the earth, holding us all steady, when we often felt unmoored, wondering if gravity wasn’t our natural state, whether we weren’t meant to be flung about the world until we grew wings or bones as hard as rocks to deal with everything the world had thrown at us, bone cancer, the powerlessness of childhood, a father’s cutting remark at our graduation, the time we lost at Little League in the playoffs and cried the whole way home, waiting for time to start unraveling so we could go back and right the wrongs of our lives, in that moment, she told me that the best moment of her life, reaching her aged hands across to mine and cupping it gently, was sitting there with me, in the back room of her old house, the light coming in just above the rose bush, almost dead now, where we’d buried the cats years prior, while my brother was in the next room tending to the affairs that needed to be tended to, and my sister was gently sheltering breakfast onto the table, while the sky was still shedding light as if nothing was fucking changing, just another day of blue with light clouds in the afternoon, when everything inside the room and my life had been fuckery for so long, but then still the square of yard where all of us children had worked for years, uprooting grass, slogging stones round from the yard, hauling gravel, forming mounds of dirt, making an English garden from the boring stretch of earth and now everything but the rose bush and the apricot tree all gone to hell, weeds growing in on the paths, and the pond we’d dug out and lined, filled in, all these reminders of time’s passage, and my mother telling me, her hand turned warmly in mine, that this was the best moment of her life, the two of us together, waiting on her to pass.
As kids, we all toiled in our mother's garden, building it from a grassy patch into something beautiful. The house has been sold now and the garden is gone. In this piece, I think I was mourning the loss of that space and what it signified, a home, a childhood, and, of course, the loss of my mother, which I'm hoping won't happen for a very long time.
Andrew Bertaina's work has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications including The Best American Poetry 2018, The ThreePenny Review, Tin House online, Redivider, The Journal, and Green Mountains Review. More of his work is available at www.andrewbertaina.com.