by James Tate
I realized Mother’s Day was just two days
away, so I went into the florist and said, “I’d
like to send my mother a dozen long-stem red
roses.” The guy looked at me and said, “My mother’s
dead.” I thought this was slightly unprofessional
of him, so I said, “How much would that be?” He
wiped his eyes and said, “Oh, that’s all right. I’m
over it, really. She never loved me anyway, so why
should I grieve.” “Can they be delivered by Thursday?”
I inquired. “She hated flowers,” he said. “I’ve
never known a woman to hate flowers the way she did.
She wanted me to be a dentist, like her father.
Can you imagine that, torturing people all day.
Instead, I give them pleasure. She disowned me,
really. And yet I miss her,” and then he started
crying again. I gave him my handkerchief and he
blew his nose heartily into it. My annoyance had
given way to genuine pity. This guy was a mess.
I didn’t know what to do. Finally I said, “Listen,
why don’t you send a dozen roses to my mother. You
can tell her you are a friend of mine. My mother
loves flowers, and she’ll love you for sending them
to her.” He stopped crying and scowled at me. “Is
this some kind of trick? A trap or something, to
get me tied up in a whole other mother thing, because
if it is, I mean, I just got rid of one, and I can’t
take it, another I mean, I’m not as strong as I
appear. . . .” “Forget it,” I said, “it was a bad idea,
and I’m certainly not sending my mother any flowers
this year, that too was a bad idea. Will you be
all right if I leave now, I have other errands, but
if you need me I can stay.” “Yes, if you could stay
with me a while. My name is Skeeter and Mother’s
Day is always such a trial for me. I miss her more
every passing day,” he said. And so we sat there
holding hands for an hour or so, and then I was on
my way to the cleaners, the bank and the gas station.
James Tate’s Selected Poems, published in 1991, won him the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award. His volume of poems Worshipful Company of Fletchers, published in 1994, was awarded the National Book Award. In 1995, the Academy of American Poets presented him with the Tanning Prize. His latest book of poems, Memoir of the Hawk, is available from Ecco Press. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts. (2001)