My mother signed notes in my high school lunch bag,
Love, Bonehead, long after we could talk of love.
She laughed at the sound of the word, the cartoon image.
And Love elevated Bonehead to a tender ache
that reached across the gap from weary mother to leery teen.
She hated lousy and meal, but to her bonehead
sounded gentler than idiot, dope, moron, retard—although
dope acquired a softness when my father,
deep in his dementia, asked, after a long day of song
and cake and tears for my five year old, Whose birthday is it?
And my mom, a skeleton herself after a year and a half
of waking to find him dressed in three polo shirts
on damp July nights or hiding the markers so he'd stop
writing names on the photos of the grandchildren, said,
It's Will's, ya dope, and we all laughed at the exhausted
appropriateness. Too tired for Bonehead, she took it
up a notch and we all appropriated the word to use
when loved ones wore us down to the bone.
Jack Powers won the 2012 Connecticut River Review Poetry Contest and was a finalist for both the 2013 and 2014 Rattle Poetry Prizes. He had a poem in volume 15 of Stirring as well as poems in The Southern Review, Rattle, Poet Lore, Inkwell, Cortland Review, Terminus and elsewhere.