Mother’s Day 2019
My Mother’s First Winter in Germany
My mother never thought she’d survive
that first winter in the slave labor camps.
She had no coat, no hat, no gloves,
just what she was wearing when the Germans
came to her home and killed my grandma
and took my mother to the labor camps.
A German guard saved her life there.
He saw her struggling to dig beets
in the frozen earth with her hands,
and he asked her if she could milk a cow.
She said, “Yes,” and he took her to the barn
where the cows were kept and raped her there.
Later, the cows kept her from freezing
and gave my mother warm milk to drink.
Tango — torneo cinco
My mother finds me in the kitchen
with ice and bandages, foot propped
like a broken shoe.
My bruise looks like Argentina,
a forest of color.
We’re learning the tango, I say,
thinking of the trees outside
the dance studio. Oaks along the river.
My mother is thinking, how terrible
the leaves die each winter.
Sometimes love necessitates disaster.
She didn’t see his face when we came together.
How I dared him to fall as I stepped around him.
How he dared me to lead, fingers on my body
tight as a locked door. I took five steps,
unaware of the vertigo. The difficulty of toes
and muscle aligning. It’s easier to walk alone
but not as beautiful, I thought, then lost
my way. The forest is a trickster.
Doesn’t it hurt? she wonders, fingering my instep.
I bandage the pain and pull away.
I’m remembering the trees, how the leaves
turned scarlet at just the right moment.
His palm, perilously sweet
against my wound.
[from the chapbook Ballroom — a love story (Flutter Press, 2012)]
There is a photo
in our first few
when we lived
in the woods
and shared meat
with the neighbors
in both arms
like an infant
Your eyes then
were so bright
had an instinct
Over the years
the cold sting
of her hand
across my face
Then I said them
and said them
just to punish her
I was five
when my grandfather
took me out
to the farm
where his brother
and led me around
of a horse
Grandpa was so
gentle with me
and with the mare
who seemed half
from the way she
nuzzled his hair
who do you think
taught my mother
If I loved you once
I love you more now
that has made them
a little tired
This is a story
a cycle breaks
about how you
there are better rivers
in which we can
our ancestors’ rage
This is a story
about our confident
who know nothing
of pain except
the hairbrush through
As for me—
I know nothing
of what you have
to get us here
But listen: I am
reach up through late
A good man
in the hospital
with a stroke
Our new baby
would have been
about a month old
the gaudy aisles
of the super center
my hand against
the small of
Our girls alternate
requests for all things
about the nature
It feels so much
like coming home
when I stop
to press my face
into your hair
[from The Inheritance, forthcoming from Blue Horse Press]
I am the shadow‑child behind the cabinet door.
I’m almost five, getting big; today I
flit and hover, perform for Grandmother,
behind her back, under her chair,
while she peels potatoes and sets
the house straight. She comes to order and rule.
Mother wears a linen dress and scrubs and
cooks to order. She looks straight through me.
Grandmother talks straight through me too, as if
invisibility makes me deaf and dumb.
Mother sings a song as if to herself,
Swing Low Sweet Chariot. I settle down
behind the cabinet door, and pull it to.
It is 1978 no it is 2001
The pants are blue yes they are still blue
My mother has made them my mother has picked them out for me
From a pattern cut at night on the kitchen table no from the sale rack of her favorite store
It is summer yes it is November
My body brimming my body siphoned off
Having learned to ride a two-wheeler having been taught churn then split open
Still triumphant still stunned and stitched up
I will wear these pants to first grade I will wear them to the stone church
Where I will write My favrit colr is blu where they will pour water over my baby’s blank brow saying In the name of—
Where is my father where are my brothers where is the steep silence of a man who put the child inside me
Hold still she is kneeling on the floor at my feet Hold still
I hear the weeping willow in the wind through the window of the blue-walled room no I hear the willow weeping through the window of the room in the wind, blue-walled
Are we done yet Mom what have I done
The pins clenched in her lips like tiny silences
Mother’s Day Poem
I remember my mother, her old house,
the miracle of her love, her fingers
on my cheek brushing away the night,
the world coming home for breakfast,
her eyes asking if I’d been on the road
for long and was the traffic heavy.
Nothing speaks of love like her kindness,
not the birds swirling in the mountains
nor starlight in the trees. Nothing speaks
of hope like her silent prayers for me
in the morning before school or the bread
and soup she placed before me at night.
Some people seek comfort in a priest,
the way he washes his hands in holy water,
raises his chin to drink wine. But it’s mothers
who divide the loaves and fishes, collect
the crumbs, sweep the floors, and find lost coins.
One day they’ll call us home for the last supper.