Phil Hall’s ‘Killdeer’

Tomorrow my mother turns 92. Yesterday she was so agitated and confused. “The day has been sloppish, sloppish!” she said. “Just sloppish.” My lovely little crooked bird of a mother. I persuaded her to let me wash her hair in the bathroom sink and from under the tap, her face nearly pressed against the basin, she said, “I miss your Dad.”

She looked so much better with her hair washed and combed and pinned with three bobby pins instead of the usual ten or twenty she jabs into place. I got her to stretch out on the chesterfield and rest her head on a pillow, and I read to her. Usually I read things she has written herself, her painting memories or her memories of her childhood lake near Renfrew, and she gives me credit for writing them no matter how often I say, “No, all of the credit goes to you, Professor Higgins.”

I know what I’ll read to her next. Killdeer, Phil Hall’s new collection of poems, which I’m reading now with such love and envy. She will respond to them as she responds to music. In these realms she is as discerning as ever. We took her on Saturday to the live broadcast from the Met of Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi. At the end she reached for my hand and said in a choked voice, “That was beautiful. It was just wonderful.”

Though her mind misplaces so much – she even misplaces who I am at times – she remembered the opera two, three, four days later.

The poems in Killdeer will do the same. They’ll clear away all the debris in her mind.

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