Birthday
by Christina Frei


-- For my mother

While I meandered under the bright lights
of a shopping mall on my daughter’s birthday,
peering into store windows in a quest for gifts,

you were listening to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano
Concerto using headphones, so as not to disturb
the patients on the other side of the curtain.

While the birthday girl, her brothers, and I lunched
on burgers, fries, and milkshakes through straws
in a red vinyl booth at a steel-rimmed table,

you were trying to swallow a single shred of toast
with orange juice, until the tray was removed
and the nurse gave you oxygen through a tube.

While we were sitting in a theater, leaning back
in our maroon-plush chairs with plastic drink
holders and sticky floors, crunching on popcorn,

your translucent eyelids were closed, while a friend
read Rilke out loud, and you whispered your thanks,
like a final exhalation that knows the end is near.

I wish you could have been there to see her blow
out 14 candles on the cake, because on the day
she was born, you wept from sheer happiness,

cradling her fretful newborn limbs, searching for
the familiar in her unformed features – wasn’t it
you who first noticed, she has exactly your eyes?






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