Jesse Bertron was a semi-finalist in in the 2020 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest

It’s eight o’clock. A Chuck-will’s-widow threads
his own name through the cedar trunks.
Walk this caliche road, you raise a column up
like smoke that lingers, white caliche dust,
as if it lay beneath an element
of longer memory than air.
Of water, is what I mean,
gathering its stirred silt like a skirt.
There’s dust on the tree trunks, dust
caught in the stitches of the clipped nuts
of the little dog my folks have bought
to help my mother with her memory.
She’s calling that dog now. He’s calling too,
his first night walk: castrato with his moonstruck arias.
Last night it was my mother and my sister out.
They said there was one of those scrims
erected between them and the moon, of dust,
that made it huge, that made them lift
their hands to touch the moon, though they had never
wanted to touch it before. That was when
my mother told my sister that before
her mind got worse, she would end her life.
So I was surprised, my mother telling me tonight
that having dreaded the loss of her memory for so long,
the loss itself had come as a kind of peace.
She wasn’t keeping anything from me.
She forgot. It’s good to be able to forget
that you have decided to die.
I meant to be talking of dust, the way it lingers here,
but you kind of start to think about some other things
with dust. What it’s made of. What it’s making bigger
by its being between you and a thing you’ve seen most of your life
but somehow never thought to reach toward
til it took up the whole sky.
But dust. My mother’s father returned home each night
for thirty years and emptied out his pockets,
his nickels blackened by the dust in the refinery,
before retiring to watch my mother’s mother:
fifteen years spent wading deeper
into fear of everything she did not remember,
which at some point became everything,
which my mother will remember for a while.
Dust. My father was a ranch hand then a singer
then a co-op man, a carpenter, an orderly,
a laborer, a drywall guy, a rehab nurse, a psychiatric nurse,
bicycle salesman, playwright, now retired. Dust.
What I mean to say is, not my father
nor any of us has ever held one job as long
as it will take my mother to dissolve
the weightless hull of memory that buoys her
from dropping through the surface
of each moment that she tries to walk upon.
She told my sister of her plans to die, not me.
She spoke to me about acceptance, about peace.
It is good to know what you can ask of them
who you yourself have taught to love.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Back to evening. Dusk still
soaking the caliche.
Give it twenty minutes:
Light will start to filter up
instead of dust
from the white road. It’s weak,
but you can walk without assistance.
Now my mother calls that little dog
she got to help her with her memory.
He rackets through the cedar brush.
And though she has just called him,
though we hear him coming,
now she’s calling him again.