My mother, at sixty, tries her first oyster – Cheryl Pearson

My mother, at sixty, tries her first oyster

You eat with your eyes: it’s why you refuse
the grey rice I fry with shiitake, the copper-smelling
steak cooked rare. In Copenhagen, we walk for miles,
stopping for glasses of gold beer. The light swarms
on Nyhavn harbour, turns the water to fire. Mother,
you have the bones of a sparrow, a whale’s hunger.
It becomes the running gag on the trip –
how you pad the hours between meals with waffles,
sneak the fruit from our cocktail sticks. Our last afternoon,
sun-flushed, drunk, we order wine in a yellow courtyard.
It’s happy hour, the waiter says, would you like to try
our oysters? Your face sours. You wouldn’t, no,
but my sister and I each order four. You are sixty this year,
you have always wanted to visit this city. You never thought
you would get on a plane, you didn’t know how pretty it would be:
the blossoms and palaces in the parks, the gold domes against
blue sky. It’s good to try new things, you say, and joking,
my sister offers up an oyster from her plate, trembling lightly
in its socket, wet, grey-white, and mucal. You hesitate, then take it
as we watch, amazed. You take the salt, a spoon of onion, finish
with a twist of lemon. This is an event – more of a surprise
than the March heat, the swan-shaped boats. We train our phones
to film your face. You won’t do it. Your throat works. And then
you take a breath, your whole face screws, and quick as anything
you suck it in, that well of slime, you grimace, chew, then gulp
it back. We cheer and clink our glasses; Actually, you say,
that wasn’t bad! This, all your life, is how it’s been: you’ve stayed
in the lines and away from edges, raw fish, fireworks, roller-coasters.
Now you are sixty, still risk-averse, but trying your feathers.
It’s joyous to watch: our cautious mother choosing fuck-it over fear.

Cheryl Pearson is the author of ‘Oysterlight’ (Pindrop Press) and Menagerie’ (The Emma Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including The Guardian, Mslexia, and The Moth, and she has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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