Waking at 6:00 am, she would sit all day on a wooden stool,
listening to country music on a radio.
Coffee gave her the neuralgia along her nose, so she gave it up years ago,
drank hot water from McDonald's Styrofoam cups.
Only bone and sinew, papery, thin skin,
her gnarled hands could crush
plants or animals or a small child.
She tried to kill the neighbor's tree with a butcher's knife three times.
Every Friday she walked seven blocks uptown to the hairdresser's,
black lace-up shoes on her feet,
plastic rain bonnet on her bobby pin-curled head,
sour expression on her face.
What were her dreams at seventeen,
already on child number three with the stepfather who beat her?
I never asked. I never loved her.
My last memory of her in the hospital bed: cold, drawn, she refused to eat
after the stroke at ninety-six, covered in vomit two days old.
Our eyes met as I wiped at her mouth,
her eyes a faded blue, independent in the end.
The Soft Dust of Memory Settles on My Tongue
The road is narrow and cramped with trailers
only two arm-lengths apart. All along the front
of the one white and brown trailer weeds break
through the small rubble of neglect to my waist.
There in the tangle of green, white and pink peonies
are crawling with large black ants.
A few half bricks attempt to border the flowerbed.
The grey macadam under my feet smells hot,
sending up wavy lines of steam just at the end of my vision.
Its uneven brokenness is littered with pebbles
the size of marbles lost from pockets in jeans
now too small for even one of my legs.
The tar-covered pebbles stick to the bottoms of my bare feet
as I stand alone in front of the now quiet mobile home.
To this kingdom of the damned I was banished,
excised from the family by patriarchal decree,
more times than I can remember.
Every stray sass/backtalk/broken toy,
every no, please/I don’t want to
earned this last resort.
I whispered paternosters under my breath:
My Father, who is inside of me,
hallowed be thy name.
thy will be done in the dark places.
Give me forgiveness, again. I will not trespass.
I will not lead you into temptation,
but deliver you from evil
for you are the king, the power, the glory.
You'll make someone a wonderful wife someday:
the deflated / straight / cliché
falls from your mouth,
but what I can't get out of my mind is:
would you let me kiss you,
bringing your crow's feet / one-by-one /
to my lips?
Would you let me rip each of your buttons off with my teeth?
Age, decades really, stretches between us rattling
its chains of taboo,
jarring me while I fantasize
about sweeping aside your moon-silver-goddess hair
& breathing wet passion on your neck
while we mold ecstasy in our hands.