Poem of the Week | November 26, 2018

This week we are delighted to present “Sundowning” a new poem by Angela Narciso Torres.

Angela Narciso Torres’s poetry collection, Blood Orange won the Willow Books Literature Award. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Jet Fuel Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, and Spoon River Poetry Review. A graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA Program and Harvard Graduate School of Education, Angela has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Illinois Arts Council, and Ragdale Foundation. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manila, she serves as the reviews editor for RHINO and an editorial panelist for New England Review. Currently, she lives in South Florida. www.angelanarcisotorres.com



                                                     for my mother, Carmen

The sweetest meat clings to the bone,
  my mother says, knifing her steak.
Carmen. Silver spade on my tongue.

  Mahjong nights, her mother and father gone,
she cried herself to sleep. Blamed in the morning
  for her mother’s losing hand. Unlucky tears!

The sweetest meat—she begins
  at dinner, tearing off a chicken leg.
What will she recall by morning?

  Named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
she pinned brown scapulars under our shirts,
  wet stamps that cleaved to our skin.

Carmen. Prayer on the breath.
  Amid potted ferns, she works
a jigsaw puzzle. Bizet on the radio.

  Unable to sleep, she made me lie next to her.
My brothers clambered the moonlit trees.
  My legs twitched, a broken clock.

Her kisses are guava and rust. She sings
  kundimans her mother sang.
Sampaguita. Dahil Sa Iyo. Saan Ka Man.

  Sunday morning. Puzzle pieces
splayed on yesterday’s news.
  Maria Callas on the phonograph.

Carmen. Citrine fire. When she plays
  the piano, the lovebirds fall silent.
Alabaster eggs tremble in glass bowls.

  Afternoons, she woke with an urge
to bite the brown loaf of my arm.
  The marks on my flesh, faded runes.

The sweetest meat clings—
  she insists. Peels a mango.
Amber rivers tracing her elbows.

  A trail of L’air du Temps wafts
in her wake. I follow it back to her room,
  dab the scent on my wrists and throat.

Evenings, she sang kundimans.
  Hatinggabi. Nasaan Ka Irog? Carmen.
Song of the mangosteen moon.

  Before you go, I want to give you something.
She hands me a thimble painted with a map
  of Cuba. We’ve never been to Cuba.

In the dream, a sister pours rosary beads
  into her cupped hands. Upon waking,
a dead wasp curled in her palm.


Author’s Note

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it was a bewildering time for my family. She had always been at the center of our lives—the powerhouse that fueled our days, the keeper and teller of stories, the life of any gathering. She was also a well-loved doctor, a skilled pianist, and an exacting disciplinarian. From her mother, she inherited a passion for cooking. In her family, food was the highest expression of love. Writing this poem was a way of preserving what I could of the mother I knew, even as she began the slow decline into dementia. It was also a way of coming to terms with the impending loss, in part by being watchful for whatever connections we could still forge as she came under the grips of this terrible disease. In writing the poem, I found myself sifting through the stories she repeated, the food she loved, the songs she played on the piano, her quirky rituals, her anxieties, and her various expressions of love, imperfect as they sometimes were. The most insistent of those found their way into this poem.