I feel so guilty, she repeats, voice thin
and surprised as a child’s.

The phone is heavy for her to hold.
I feel so guilty.

I tell her, You worked hard all your life.
You have no reason to feel guilty.

The white flowers, says my mother.
Always she talks about flowers.

So beautiful the things inside them,
she says. Long red things.

Is there anything we can give you
to eat?

What kind of flowers? I inquire.
I hear her ask her aide.

And now she reports, White lilies.
With red things. I feel so guilty.

The two birds. I don’t deserve it.
Everything in this house is beautiful.

Suddenly my ardent mother
is a shining spirit like a mountain

lifting up the entire sky.
It is for this that she has thrashed

her way through life, and now,
in her white cloak of helplessness,

as if from a high place,
she is teaching our poor world

its own magnificence.

Penelope Schott


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