Penelope Schott Penelope Schott

A few years back, Penelope Schott and I discussed her writing of the following poem, “Heart Failure,” and its intrinsic connection to her relationship with her mother. The poem appears in Schott’s most recent collection, SIX LIPS (© 2009, Mayapple Press), and appears on with her permission.



This is the year I would like to find pity. I would like
to hurt for my mother the way I ache for my children
whenever anything major goes wrong in their lives.
I want to feel vicariously glamorous when she models
the umber cashmere sweater she bought half-price
in the overpriced boutique by her favorite sushi shop.
I would like to gasp for breath whenever she grabs
for her oxygen tube and jiggles the prongs into sore
nostrils. I want to tremble and feel confused
when she can’t retrieve e-mail messages and starts
to panic. When her skeletal legs burn under sheets,
I wish my own hard-muscled calves would throb.

I want to be sad that she’s eighty-seven and fading.
I want to invent memories of how she encouraged me
when I was a child, how she helped me when I
was a young mother, how understanding she was
when I got divorced, or else I want to stop caring.
Meanwhile, my mother masters forgetting: which
museum she means to visit, the name of the play
she saw yesterday, what day is today.

This is the year I intend to excavate my terror,
melt down my resentment, blow it into molten
orange glass, shape it into a shining sculpture
of one enormous woman and cool it and smash it.

My mother has become tiny and pathetic and brave.
Recently she has learned thank you or even please.
She lives in her elegant house like a black pearl
from a broken oyster drifting under reefs in a bay.
She lives in her house like a startled rabbit unable
to finish crossing the road. If I had enough pity,
I would dare to squeeze her fragile neck and kiss
her forehead as I press down on her windpipe and keep
on pressing with my strong and generous thumbs.


These days my mother surprises me, slowed,
gentled, taking trees into account.

It’s not what I’m used to, this appreciation,
watching the squirrels scamper up black bark
like acrobats of joy, while the long afternoon
withdraws into twilight, her mechanical tide
of oxygen yawing through waves and troughs
of breathlessness.

This drowning old lady is not my mother. Not
abrupt. As I stroke her knuckles, grace glints
in our salt hands.