Treasure Island

Tony Hoagland

(1953 - / North Carolina / United States)


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.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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  • Cynthia Buhain-baello (4/19/2012 7:43:00 PM)

    Very sad for the mother for a son to treat her as an enemy - she had hell of a life before she even died. Not a general way sons regard their mother, though, and the poem succeeded in bringing forth a disturbing theme. (Report) Reply

  • Jonathan Larsen (5/29/2007 3:10:00 PM)

    If God created humans, and God created language, then God created poetry.
    Perhaps this is the way that God has chosen to deal with 'such horrific feelings.' (Report) Reply

  • Mandira Mitra (5/4/2007 11:01:00 AM)

    I disagree. There is nothing that poetry cannot express, even if its a silent animosity. Well done. (Report) Reply

  • Melvina Germain (2/26/2007 8:16:00 AM)

    A very sad and grusome poem indeed, I wonder what God thinks of the person in your poem that speaks of this poor Mother. Only God can deal with such horrific feelings. I feel pain for both people in your poem, the adult child and the Mother. They both need much prayer. This poem shows a great deal of pain, followed by sad imagry and also a profound message to parents around the world. Though very sad and harsh, it is full of painful truth.--Melvina-- (Report) Reply

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