Mother’s Day 2017
A History in Light
For years of my girlhood I could not make sense
of my mother’s story: her mother’s
mother, filling a lamp
while her baby played beneath the wooden table.
How the kerosene caught
fire in her long hair, burned,
and she burned before her daughter.
The daughter I could picture, the turned-leg
table, the cloth’s point edging with flame,
buttoned shoes, a white hem.
What I could not comprehend:
how could my grandmother have been born,
motherless, out of that past? This was
a child’s simple confusion
about what must come first:
mother, mother’s mother, mother’s story.
In time, I understood it. And then the word
kerosene seemed like a woman’s name
opening into my mouth, a tawny flower.
In yesterday’s afternoon lightslant
through the kitchen window I watched a fox
cross the yard in her quick black boots,
her copper coat flaring against fallen
snow: a penny’s glint against linen.
Brightness is a tyranny:
adamant, how it draws and holds.
She did not see me watching, the fox.
When the night came I still thought of her;
when morning came too. A kind of
history in light: even after
it folds into shadow. Her careful
footfall. The lamp glow.
Siesta In Ishpeming, Michigan
after Tomas Tranströmer
A young woman chests her sleeping child,
listens to the catches
in his breath. With a fingernail,
she chips paint flakes off the sill
and counts the ore trucks that quake
her father’s house. Dust seeks
every seam of the window frame.
Vacant houses down the street
vanish as she loses
and regains her reflection
locked in eternity’s pounding fist.
As If I Were My Mother
The wind blows as if I were eighty-five
My mother turns eighty-six today.
On cue, the wind blows as if winter
has come early, first week of October
but there is snow in the suburbs.
People shiver and hug themselves at bus stops,
the trees muted though not yet bare.
Ko Un writes that in the place
where he finds himself
this world & the Other are drained of difference.
And here, where I hold a mug of coffee
to fend off the cold, the other world
might be what shines through the leaves that have turned yellow
on one branch of the maple, or what rises in the steam
scented with coffee, or even the wind itself.
In turf-cutter’s pulp I may find my purpose. The rest of the earth moved just as my husband said. Burgeoning and lush. Even the salmon spawned each season. He’d slit their bellies and had me finger the roe. Pray for my long winter seed of a womb. I understood his belief, what bears no fruit is hewn down and cast into pits. I asked him to wait for last harvest. Pleaded it would end without pain. A worthless tomb to become bulb. Time rebirths the body as fire fuel. My second coming, lifted in leathered bruise, as the black maw’s forceps baby.
A furlong without sympathy
blood vessels mapping my eyelids
in the afternoon a jewel of a nap
sunlight mapping the blood vessels
if only I carried the route like that
I carry part of the story you carry
no wonder you sleep in the afternoon
you carry the weight of an explorer
past this life you are mapping us back
to cells made by your blood rooted
in your body we splashed into you
the way a road branches beyond
the map the route a surprise until
you reach a grove of sugar maple
dreaming like the way your heart
moves the blood warm as sunlight
no wonder this life has too many hours
for you to remember your blood
you carried us, you vessel, mother.