This is a sequence I'm developing---
Why do you go? Last time, she twisted your rings
until you noticed hers were gone. Stolen
right out from under her.
You want me to see you are still needed.
You want me to promise that none of this
will happen to you.
They make her sit with all the others,
displayed like an open sore. She screams
at passers-by,“Do you know who I am?”
With your mind on fire you tell me this:
What do we do with the thing called Hope?
When you dangle by a thread, I’ll cut it for you.
I’ll do for you what you did for me
on the days you pulled my milk-teeth out,
dragging each one on its pulpy string right through
the first in our lifetime of slamming doors.
Mother Won’t Move
There’s a hook in the hall
where keys once dangled
but no escape
from change that clouds
the mind or sky.
It’s for your own good,
her boy said,
pocketing the car keys.
The dusk split with lightning
unsettles her less
than his rustling legal papers.
Behind drapes fisted shut,
a barricade chair on buckling slats
leans hard against the doorknob.
This front will pass. All it takes
is a woman stubborn with survival,
flashlight in hand, alone in an eye
blind to change closing in.
Mother slips into sleep
beside the banked fire.
The red pulse at its core
warms her bones,
but it’s flesh
that keeps her rooted here,
a steeple of fingers
under the chin.
When she opens scribbled lids
to dreams already pulling away,
her hands, twined at the thumb,
flutter. Along the route of her dark
migration, two birds follow one another
into the guttering shadows.
Closing Mother Down
I’m trimming my sister’s hair
when Mother makes for the scissors.
“I’m the one,” she begins. Her words
sputter to a halt as I close the blades.
She stands, dwarfed in the kitchen
she once ruled, and I see her as she was,
bending low over the children’s curls,
her movements precise and quick.
I am the scissors cutting her
from her old life now. Even as
she opens me to loss, I begin
to close her.
Late sun smooths her quilted skin,
her cheeks rise under her eyes.
She’s silent in the car, squints
at streetlights flaring up along the road.
She says nothing when I feed her,
but I see how she tracks the glint
that bounces off the spoon.
When downtown smog smudges
her bedroom windowpane, I begin
to draw the drapes. She tugs at my wrist.
It’s not enough, she says, but let it in.
I’m taking everything off
she announces, clawing at her clothes.
A new scar gleams on her mended hip.
Where did this come from, where is it going?
A cross-hatched seam
in the center of a body’s landslide.
A cradle for children, a long-ago man; a broken wing.
She begins brailling her whorled fingertip down
the red raised tracks. This is not what she expected.
A railroad crossing pocked with stop signs.
A fire escape going down.
Slipping Her Mind
My mother, rattling
our teacups, asks
Did you know my husband?
She points to the picture on the wall,
the same one I keep by my bed.
He was my father, I say,
and her hands fly to her face.
Her mind flickers off and on,
braiding past and present
in a loose skein full of absence.
I wonder what she does remember.
My father, she says, shaving his sick son.
So that she cannot see my tears, I turn
toward the window crazed with frost.
Beyond the glass, the world sinks deeper
into winter. Our tea is cold now.
Are we related? she wants to know.
You slipped through the screen door last night.
I heard the slam, but kept dreaming of you
in your Florida, drinking tropical sky through a straw,
bones of sand shifting in your body’s leather purse.
With a mind dwindling back to innocence,
you’ll never turn around now. I call out anyway,
a series of Ohs that dissolve in the cold.
What’s between us must find another way
to stick. A tic traced back through generations—
the similar sway of our backs, the shape
of our hands. Mine, made limp with waving,
yours sinking beneath land not designed to last.
Blossoms from the cherry tree
swirl around the garden birdbath,
plush the lounge chairs, drape the table
in fragrant cover. The evergreen, too,
has thickened with flowers, leaning low
over azaleas not yet in bud.
Arriving on paths of wind-tossed petals,
a flutter of moths settles in the deserted cherry.
Its stark branches shiver with wings.
When the flurry rises up again
it's the empty places I must turn from,
before the night backs into what it was --
failing light and fading voices
reaching out toward what is lost, as if to say,
I didn't mean it, as if to say, please come back.
A year to the day after the end,
the box, wearing thin as patience, splits.
Worn leather gloves spill out.
The woman gathers them in the usual way
and breathes in the scent that lingers there.
Her mother had a hand that could stall time.
She mapped the world with fingers,
curved and soft,
like the ones that touch her child now,
a thing still supple with life,
unwilling to let it go.