Diana Saenz, Writer

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the softer edge of memor


the softer edge of memory

1. three years past

inside my father's brain

a new chemistry exists

that feeds upon the old chemistry

for a long time they coexist

until the old one is smothered


my sister and I are visiting my parents

mom just out of the hospital

dad has become half-child

but the remnants of his former self

sparkle as tiny jewels


he shuffles into the bedroom

to tuck us in

like wide-eyed papooses


at four in the morning

accustomed to eastern standard time

I am washing dishes

he wanders in looking for something sweet

we sit together eating apple pie

and talk about the things he now remembers

his older sister who died at fifteen

she was the talented one, he says


"I would scoot against her

as she practiced piano 

to get closer to the music.

I really wanted to play an instrument

but my parents said I was too stupid"

a remarkable revelation

now that his disease has robbed

him of stoicism

my father always seemed distant to me

my mother knew a different man

"Who is rosemary” I ask him

"Awww this beautiful girl I stole away"


I tuck them into bed

my heart breaks to see them

fragile and trusting as children

and all along a sense that

I am helplessly talking about myself

unable to pluck my losses from

the great horizon I cannot see


II. three years later


I am feeding my mother

“I am so tired,” she says

"I cannot open my eyes

I always fed you balanced..."

"Yes, Mom, now it’s my turn to make you eat"

she smiles, then frowns

I call the nurse for morphine 


on the sixth day in the afternoon

the heartbeat monitor drops

becomes a sound that demands attention

becomes a single note

the blood color sinks away...

and she no longer sleeps


eventually we go through the ritual

where one combs

through one's parent's life

every drawer, every cupboard, every box

every envelope, every word

we are tender criminals

taking the evidence of their life together

into our marrow


I open an envelope

a slip of yellowed paper falls out

"My beloved Rosita,

I haven't had a chance to write you.

I will soon, and send you my love.


the note is dated

in their 30th year of marriage


because of our mother’s illness and death

it is two weeks since we have visited our father

my sister and I decide not to tell him

afraid of how anguish would play itself

in his diminished psyche

his face is without expression 

We call his name

but he does not respond

a cold knot gathers at my core

a flutter of panic doffs the air

is the old chemistry at last defeated?

"Do you want some candy"

he stares at nothing


I take out the lollypop

that has so far linked us to him

I pry his fist open enough

for him to hold the stick

and raise his reluctant arm stiff from disuse

"Open your mouth," I say

but he does not

I touch the candy to his lips

"Abre la boca["1]--he tastes the sweet



the same approving mmmm

we have known since childhood

my sister and I laugh with relief

we sit outside under umbrellas

my father loves the sun as much as

the mesa spirits where he was born


I must be contented

with the fragments

and the earliest memories

where the greatest truths lie

before I leave I embrace him

with one arm he fiercely holds me

kisses me on the neck

your father remains your father

regardless of any outcome


they say daughters marry their fathers

but I only remember my father

teaching me how to change

spark plugs and a tire


perhaps the deepest lesson

is the example of one's life

my father dresses the photograph

where men love passionately

I go into the world and marry one

and though I only realize this

when I am on the plane flying home

it has nothing to do with luck


in the days of the nonchalant treasure

of ordinary tasks

I see my hands and find my mother

or my father's wit bounces from me

I am a piece of their faceted lives

can we be purified by love? 

imperfect matter that we are

[1] Open your mouth