“My 88-Year-Old Mother-in-Law Decides to Make New Year’s Resolutions” by Laurie Uttich

Laurie Uttich


and I want to say, oh, Rose, why? but there’s no way to pass the prime
rib and pretend the words You’ll be dead soon enough aren’t standing
behind her, waiting to be said. Instead, I say, Maybe we strive for more
pleasure this year instead and she nods, but her dead husband walks in
and a wave of grief floods the floors. We wade awhile in all she’s lost—
so many streams of her joy drained dry—and then I rise and slice
the rum cake I made that morning. I cut through the glaze of sugar
and pecans and present it on a plate that still bears the prints of my mother
who gave them to me before she died. I center it, sprinkle it with cocoa,
and bless it with cream I whipped by hand. I slide silver from the drawer
and polish it on a clean cloth and I set it in front of her like a sacrifice
to something I’m not brave enough to name. My mother-in-law smiles:
as she aged, she’s learned to recognize love when it appears on another
woman’s wedding china. She places the cake on her tongue and 20 years
fall away. We sit in the exhale and we breathe in all we were born to delight
in and then the moment passes and she is on to sleep cycles and squeezing
back into a size 12 and catching up with Ancestory.com. She makes a list
of all she didn’t achieve last year and asks me if I think she’ll live to see
her granddaughter marry. I don’t say, Who knows if any of us will? but days
have passed and I keep thinking about pleasure and how it comes when you
call it. A red cardinal studies the birdfeeder outside my window and watches
over the brown one while she lifts her beak to the seeds. The sun streaks
the sky and the white plume of a plane heads toward the west. My goddaughter
holds a newborn a thousand miles away and her baby’s scent wanders into
my living room. I settle into the soft skin of her neck and drink her in. Later,
I’ll study my husband’s shoulders and measure their width with the same
appreciation I did on a dance floor over 35 years ago. Look, I know we’re all
dying and some of us are already dead. But there is a book by my bed, a dog
who considers me her own, and there is rum and cake and words that wait
within. Tomorrow, I’ll walk by the river and the water will be brown
and the snakes sleeping in the shade, but I’ll only see the way the sun blinks
between the trees and winks at the waves. I’ll think of my sons, but
I won’t wrap them in worry. I’ll only see the great gift they are, the men
they are on their way to becoming. I’ll let everything I love—everything
I will ever love—settle on my own narrow shoulders and I’ll hold it out
to you, Reader of Poems, on a plate from my mother’s cabinet. I’ll ask
you to study its face. You can see it, right? It’s there, in front of you,
scratched but not cracked. It could have broken a thousand times
in 60 years, but still it survives, shines. It’s too obvious of a metaphor
—I know that—but I don’t know how to call Pleasure by its first name
and not fall to my knees when it answers. I’m one of those who bleed.
The world’s suffering is my own. (I know you’re the same.) But I can’t
stop thinking about how much the world needs poetry and pleasure
and everything that wavers in between and I don’t know much about
resolutions or all the ways we can thrive (or hide), but I want to pull
you into my kitchen, place a plate next to a fork, and tell you the secret
to rum cake is 5 eggs and vanilla pudding and Bacardi Dark and when
you leave for the night and step out into the black where the Florida
frogs speak in a language older than ours; I want you to match their
pitch with your own.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Laurie Uttich: “My poetry tends to be full of fury or grief. It stumbles into a room, throws an emotion on the floor, and slams the door on the way out. I revel in the release of my Inner Poet who is so different than the person I walk around as every day. She shows her teeth and she doesn’t spend a millisecond worried about what anyone thinks (even you). But one of the men I write with on Fridays at a Florida prison often calls me a contradiction and chides me for my ‘sad stories’ while he writes his own poems about joy. This year, I decided to try and do the same.” (web)

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