By Andrew Hubbard
My first name is Marybeth
My last name changes about once a decade.
I bought this little log cabin
With a stone-fenced vegetable patch
For a backyard, and started
Reading gardening books,
Started getting my hands dirty
With some honest work.
The rock garden walls
Are home to little lizards
Beautiful, and quick as thought,
With graceful, brilliant blue tails.
Yesterday the cat was playing
With a blue tail on the porch
And I said to him,
“Hey mighty hunter, did you eat the lizard?”
My neighbor was visiting, and he laughed.
“It’s a blue-tailed skink,” he said.
“If something catches their tail
It comes off and they grow a new one.”
“Now that’s what I call resilience!”
I feel admiration
And a sense of kinship:
I can’t regenerate body-parts
But life-parts I’m good at.
I’ll get a better job.
I’ll make more money.
I’ll find a better-looking man.
I’ve bounced back from disaster
So many times I feel almost immune
On my good days…
On my darker days
I amend the old saying,
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
I say instead, “What doesn’t kill me—
Wears me down bit by bit
Like a file on soft metal.”
That’s all right—
We all have some dark days
And when I do
The garden helps a lot
And so do the skinks
With their endless scurry
And their unselfconscious passion
For being so utterly and intensely themselves.
Taking Care of Mother
Beside the sink in the old farm kitchen
We have a red-enameled water pump
With the long handle flung into the air
In a salute it has held for over seventy-five years.
We got it when mother was a little girl.
She says her mom was the proudest woman
In town: and for good reason—
No more walks uphill from the well
With a bucket of water in each hand,
No more shoveling snow to the well in winter
And breaking the ice on the wellcover with a hammer
While the screaming wind made her eyes tear
And the tears froze before they could reach her chin.
Now the pump’s an antique, a monstrosity,
But mother dotes on it as much as ever;
Won’t even discuss getting running water.
She even resents the electric lights
And whenever we lose power she gloats
How kerosene lamps don’t go out in an ice storm.
We’re alone. Dad died long ago.
I was an only child
And mother won’t talk about that.
I never married, never came close
The story of my love life would fit
On the back of a postage stamp with room left over.
Mother cared for me, now I care for her.
That’s a kind of rough justice I suppose.
I used to dream of getting free
But now it feels too late
And this life with mother
I truly believe it’s a visitation for my sins.
She has three gingham dresses, blue, brown, and pink.
She rotates between them, but favors the blue.
When we go into town I try to buy her new clothes
But she won’t. Says they’re too dear.
(How long since you heard that phrase?)
She remembers about twenty five stories
About her family and her early years.
She tells a couple every day
Until she gets through them, then she starts over.
She doesn’t know she’s doing it of course
But it’s been going on twenty years
I could tell the stories myself by now.
She starts every story by saying,
“Did I ever tell you…”
And that’s what most makes me want to scream.
I can’t let her cook.
She burns things till they catch fire
And she doesn’t turn the stove off.
That leaves me, I cook. We eat together
And she farts through every meal.
Of course she can’t hear it, so she doesn’t know.
Last month I was so far past fed up
I took her to a senior home in town,
Checked her in, and paid her first month’s keep.
She was docile enough during the process
But after lights out she opened a window
And somehow got to the ground in one piece.
She walked five miles toward home
Before the police picked her up at sunrise
And brought her back here.
They were amazed.
“That’s one tough old bird,” they said.
She is that.
She was mad as a wet hen
And so were the people from the home when they called.
They wouldn’t even give me my money back.
She caught a really bad cold in that escapade
And it won’t go away so now I sleep with her.
I’d rather sleep with a squid, but sometimes in the night
She coughs so bad I’m afraid she’d die
If I weren’t there to help.
I don’t get much sleep
And I’ve picked up a cough of my own now,
Along with blood in the morning phlegm.
Not a very good sign.
If I go first, I want my stone to say,
“Whatever she did, she paid for it.”
About the Author:
Andrew Hubbard was born and raised in a coastal Maine fishing village. He earned degrees in English and Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and Columbia University, respectively.
For most of his career he has worked as Director of Training for major financial institutions, creating and delivering Sales, Management, and Technical training for user groups of up to 4,000.
He has had four prose books published, and his most recent books, collections of poetry, were published in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
He is a casual student of cooking and wine, a former martial arts instructor and competitive weight lifter, a collector of edged weapons, and a licensed handgun instructor. He lives in rural Indiana with his son, his wife, a giant, black German Shepard, and a gaggle of semi-tame deer.