My Mother Visits Me in Prison
‘I was in prison once!’ she chirps like it’s a story
about winning the lottery. ‘Really?’ I ask, unsure
if she’s lying on purpose or her brain’s hiding
the truth from her like the queen in a game
of three-card monte. ‘Where’d the red lady land?’
her brain asks, revealing three cards upside down,
blue and white backs depicting flowery thickets
through which no light passes. It’ll be impossible
for her to pick. ‘This game’s rigged,’ I whisper,
tug at her sleeve, but she’s already closed her eyes –
her pupils carom beneath see-through lids. The family
next to us begins to cry. All of them. They hold
each other’s hands across the table. The guard barks,
they unhand and cry harder, there’s no release, only
a bottomless well of grief. My mother stares.
‘That orange bird sings such a pretty song!’
We’ll never know the Tanners any better than we do
after the show’s 42-second intro, when the girls come
dancing over a green San Francisco hill, laughing at a joke
we missed. A happy man strums a guitar but we can’t hear
his song because the intro’s drowning him out (maybe
he’s just moving his lips). Another man touches his car,
stares at the camera and smiles. That’s all we’ll ever know!
Which means we know the Tanners better than the real
people we love who are silently jettisoning thoughts and
parts of themselves that no longer benefit them, like a snake
sheds dead skin. Sometimes, that skin is us and they don’t
know they’re changing, but we do, even without words.
The Tanners are like mushrooms: born with every molecule
they’ll ever need. No matter how much it rains, they’ll soak
it up. Only the singer of their theme song will change.