Todd McKinney is the author of a limited edition chapbook, A Matter of Public Record, published by Mississinewa Press. His work has appeared in journals such as Smartish Pace, The Greensboro Review, Cimarron Review, StorySouth, Puerto del Sol, and others. He teaches writing at Ball State University and lives on a small farm with his wife, Jackie, and their two sons.
Todd McKinney talks about metaphor in “Praise for Your Mother’s Passing.”
Praise for Your Mother’s Passing
By Todd McKinney
6:34 and already sunlight
slants into room 572 South.
You wonder by what name
this sunlight is known.
You reach your hand into it
and your hand warms inside the light.
You try naming it.
Tangible Sun. Visible Air.
Dissatisfied with both,
you let your mind wander.
You think of your goofy son
who started the Name Game,
a game you find yourself playing
while driving or while enduring some meeting.
Concrete Dragon. Metal Mice Humming.
Infinite Yawn, Silent Scream.
You enjoy the game though you avoid
equating nonsense sounds with definition.
Voices rise and fade as the nurses
pass through the hallway, as I.V. drips
echo each other with their beeps,
as elevators ding red and white.
Your mother takes each breath seriously,
a telephone rings, the heater
clicks on and off and back on,
horns dot the morning rush hour,
you shift your legs in the chair.
Except for these sounds, it’s quiet.
The weight of the paperwork you brought
feels good on your thigh this morning.
You have felt its comfort before
while processing wills and trusts,
filling in names, dates, addresses,
adding up and subtracting the numbers,
making sure everything evens out.
You have tried to name
the satisfaction when it does:
Lemon Twist. Jumping Dog.
You admit they don’t quite get it,
relying too much on personal associations.
The world is impersonal.
This is a fact you know well.
You look at the facts surrounding you,
recording them: the way the sheets
roll and wrinkle and form
around your mother’s frail body,
one fist sticking out, the other
hand under cover;
the slow drip of the I.V.;
the motes hanging in the sunlight.
You start counting them
but lose your place at 11 or 12.
A fact from elementary school
startles you again
with its implications: sunlight
travels to the earth in about 8 minutes.
Your mother’s face looks tired but relaxed,
her jowls looser, her eyes deeper.
You begin putting words together
so you will always remember it,
so you can describe it to your son.
Heavy Light. Yellow Leaf, Still Attached.
You smile—that one got close—
and look at your watch: 7:05.
They said this would be her last week.
They said it’s only a matter of days,
hours, minutes, seconds.
You measure the space between
each exhalation: 12, 18, 21, 15 seconds.
When she lets out a sigh
with a small yelp in it,
just above a whisper,
you know it for what it is
and need no language to know it.
Before you buzz the nurse,
you admire how the light and shadow
hold her in the white-sheeted bed,
all 102 pounds of her.
You say, “Chlorophyll.”
You say, “Strong Branch, 1,000 Leaves.”
[This poem was published in Issue 11 of Smartish Pace.]
Writing Prompt: Think of an important event or story. Frame a poem within a specific scene of this event/story (it could take place in one minute or one day/night–don’t get longer than that). As you talk about what’s happening in the poem, share the significance of the actions with readers.
Definition of Terms
An occasional poem is a poem written in response to an event or an occasion.
A narrative poem is a poem that tells a story.
A metaphor is a comparison created in a figure of speech between two different things that have similarities. Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s song “I Am a Rock.” Metaphor is often talked about with similes, which also create comparisons between two things. Think of metaphor as the whole (I am a rock) and simile as the part (I am rough like a rock).
An image system, as discussed by Todd McKinney, are images in a poem that connect and build upon one another.