I find my arms
folded across myself, a breast
in each palm, cupped there
as if in offering. My mother’s hands
were empty. Phantom flesh
let her fingers fall
to the exact truth of her ribs—
ribs and the knot of scars.
Morning must have carried her, light
as luck, into the embrace of grief,
its touch breath-
Many mornings I’ve seen you
around the margin of the river,
lead grey as a ruined tooth.
It’s been a shock to me
a shock to watch
you grow legs
Once I felt you smudged
under a counter, once
in the thumbhole of a bowling ball
but mostly you’re forming –
your foam smoulders, pustules
bumping up against the harbor rocks.
Even on earth’s most angelic morning,
mosquitoes trundle your puddles,
fungal. Dear Scum, of course
there are others.
Even before I knew you
their odor corroded the weft of the lawn.
Scum, you’ll never lift a leg
high enough to piss past
the lip of your own spittoon.
Scum, stay away
way far away
from my daughter.
[previously published in Weave]
Choosing Not to Bear
Born in the glassy hour of daybreak,
third girl child
wrapped again in love,
I somehow missed the lessons
in the laws
that govern mothering,
was more intent
on hunting the light-eyed moon,
blooms and the hummingbird’s green feather.
Now, as the hourglass of my womb empties,
I refuse to turn
the moonlight sands
on end again. My grandmother
becomes a bird
that hums, breaking
the shell of the day,
her hands clocking my married
yet my empty womb is a bursting star,
and her eyes fall needle-sharp and blue
on my barren belly.
Meanwhile, my mother
lines her life with the silver and gold
of her last,
her starburst daughter.
She neglects to reset
the clock’s hands when it loses time,
a sharp needle and sews closed another tear.
Her blue eyes mark a vision of love
in the silver lining
of a choice not easy for any of us to bear.
[previously published in Zone 3, reprinted from The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths (Jacar Press, 2013)]
Why I Had Children
Albert Bierstadt’s Half Dome illumes from across the room.
My daughter runs up that’s the one I want to draw pulls from her bag
a stubby pencil, sketches the buck in the foreground while I study
the placard, light as a symbol of Western-Expansion promise,
but she’s tugging my arm don’t write! (Imagine Bishop trailed
by a six-year old through Rio de Janeiro, Petropolis, Boston,
Nova Scotia …). Now we’re admiring a Liberian bird mask
meant to be worn while singing thanks to the hornbill
for bringing the palm nut (also to the parakeet for cracking
the palm nut open). Speaking of cracking open, now she’s airing
her views on the photographs of rugged logger he-men (boring), asking
Where’s that mouse? so we’re off to the giant black rodent
perched on a sleeping man’s chest this sculpture’s about a nightmare
which I have to agree, which I also nod when she shares
the Picasso sculpture resembles a sausage (would I rather
be childless?). After the rat, her favorite piece a stuffed tom
cozily snoozing atop an African drum. She prefers the intricate
ivory carvings to the Rothko, the scrimshaw salt cellar
with frolicsome alligators to the Gorky titled How My Mother’s
Embroidered Apron Unfolded in My Life. Hadn’t given much thought
till now to the trans-Saharan salt trade—what it must’ve been like
for the miners in 15th century Sierra Leone, who shipped the grains
from the desert to Portugal. But she’s got me by the arm (when
would Bishop have asked “Why, oh why, the doily?”), swears the cat
has changed positions, both of us with a sudden urge to pet it.
Argument for Staying
Because she always leaves
the spine of a book split
in her hands. And doorless—
the kitchen, her red
clenched heart. Because still
she tries to let that knot
of blood and muscle
loosen into something
easier—a slow breeze
kind of dance
with the world, a sway
maybe. Because it’s true
there’s always something
fevering on the stove,
thick stew of sticking it out,
shriek of boiling
water. All of it—
the book, the heart,
the stove. The window
is what she wants most
of all, the view it tends
in its warped sill
and whatever rolling
hills or seas are past it.
Because behind her, the door
of what she has opens.
And their voices
clinking through it
like the day’s loose change.