This week's poem, "Bathing Mother," was shortlisted for the annual O'Bheal 5-Word Challenge International Poetry Competition. About the poem, judge Maurice Riordan said, "‘Bathing Mother’ echoes John Donne’s ‘O my America, my new-found-land’ but how powerfully, indeed shockingly, it alters the erotic context and transforms it to raw physical vulnerability. And that switch is, well, also in a sense, erotic – or, as the poem puts it, is ‘something beyond intimacy’".
The first time I bathed Mother
after the cancer’s heat carved the great
mountain of her (one I could never approach)
into a rutted hill of loose flesh and jutting
bone, I noticed for the first time the odd
angle of one rib, where some minute fracture—
falling against the bed post, leaning too hard
into a kitchen chair, or breathing—had dented
an otherwise smooth arc. I traced the rib
with a soapy hand, gently washed her back.
This new land! There, behind her knee,
a scar like a ragged star. Below her
disappearing breasts, a curtain of skin
where cancer had eaten up the muscle
and fat. The discoveries of this moment,
my mother soaked and naked, small,
afraid to look me in the eyes, was
something beyond intimacy. It was
mystery unveiling itself, it was a gasp
without sound, her final unspoken question
for me, one I will never be able to answer.