Denise Duhamel

The Last Time I Saw My Mother Before the Pandemic, #Me Too & Ready
April 20, 2023 Duhamel Denise



was on Valentine’s Day 2020. The residents who were able to sit up
gathered in the dining room decorated with red tablecloths
for a festive lunch. At first my mother didn’t want to go, but I talked her
into it. I brought my own food—supermarket sushi—and the ladies
at the table were mesmerized by it. One had never seen raw fish before.
Another said her daughter eats it too, but she found it scary.
They had me read aloud the ingredients. Women from the kitchen
served small meals as Frank Sinatra crooned from a Boom Box.
I cut my mother’s chicken for her. She was still getting used to eating
with her left hand. The server insisted I join in for dessert—
a slab of vanilla ice cream cut into the shape of a heart
with a drizzle of raspberry sauce, a silhouette of a lipstick kiss.






Before #MeToo, we go to see Louis CK
in Miami. We take a Lyft (my mom’s first)
to the Arsht Center, putting her walker in the trunk.
It’s November 2016, a little more than a week
after the election. The driver’s puzzled—I can’t believe
you’re taking this sweet lady to his show. You know Louis CK
is filthy, right? He looks at me like I’m endangering
my mother who says Don’t let this gray hair
fool you. I was an ER nurse and probably know
more swear words than you do. The driver gives us
bottles of water and lets us pick the radio station.
A year later, allegations in the New York Times
and Louis CK’s admission. My mother and I
are befuddled, sure until then he was a feminist.
We loved Louie, Horace and Pete (what do Edie Falco
and Jessica Lange and Laurie Metcalf think?)
In November 2017 my apartment is still a mess,
missing walls that were soaked in Hurricane Irma
then torn down. My mom’s in too much pain to make
another trip. We talk on the phone about
Harvey Weinstein, harken back to Bill O’Reilly
and the loofah, Bill Cosby and the Quaaludes.
My mother tells me about handsy doctors
and I tell her about handsy poetry professors.
Neither of us are on Facebook. We barely know
what a hashtag is that fall. And we are
only starting to read about Tarana Burke.
Me too, we keep saying, finally having the language.





Her eyes open once
but they are cloudy and look through me.
A volunteer Sister who comes by to give
my mother communion decides
it’s too dangerous. My mother could choke.
The Sister says a prayer over her instead
and offers me my mother’s host. Though
I haven’t been to confession in decades,
I say yes. I am ready to believe.
The Sister says, God is ready for your mom.
Your mom is getting ready for God.
My eyes drift to my mom’s curled hands.
My mom drifts somewhere in her own God-clouds.

Denise Duhamel’s most recent books of poetry are Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021) and Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is a distinguished university professor at Florida International University in Miami.