I’m five again. Dresses with bows
in the back become an impossible reach.
Mother’s death is everywhere — especially
in speechlessness, in flour bags
beneath dark olives of Daddy’s eyes.
He’s earned this shade of painful pitch.
Phrases that corner her name
rub rocks in the gaping sore, create
a kind of carpet burn when
elbows touch by accident.
My sister tries on all her clothes —
ghostly blouses hang below her shaking knees
like circus tents without their pegs.
She throws them on the bedroom floor
in angry heaps of autumn leaves.
Soon enough we’ll learn to sweep,
pull the weeds where flowers grew.
Every trinket in the house —
from dishes to porcelain cats,
from quilts to tables set for three —
business cards with edges curled
smeared with the ink of her grave.
Her shiny brown piano seat
has cobwebs in its antique joints.
A maid comes in to clean the keys
that seem to shrink like bars of soap.
Soon we’ll plant a fence or two
as if they’re trees and have a place.
He’ll water them at cocktail hour,
watch the fog as it fixes
the absent to nothingness.
I stay in the gloves of my skin.
afraid to window-crack a tear.
Questioning the cauterized
with crayons and an empty page,
I draw her name in large red streaks
as if its lipstick colored gray.
Wedding photos disappear.
Another woman’s furniture arrives in trucks.
I look for a cushion with pins.
Your hair was the color of pearls,
but I didn’t think they were real.
I couldn’t admit to the ash
of your skin, its porcelain pose
on saucers of graves.
Two long days beside your bed.
A cradle I pushed but could not rock.
My eyes were grabbing renaissance.
I knew it but I acted blind.
You warned me of death and its salt —
how oceans are garnished with thirst.
You taught me how to rope and rise
a baby grand from dining rooms
of buried ships — and still I
painted ivory keys of fingernails
neon shades of busy lies
with no respect for waning light.
A wish was stepping on my hands.
Too young to abide the wrinkling fruit,
I wasn’t prepared for the rind.
“Consider a storm the polish of craft,
expect the ice to be sharp” — you said,
but I sat deaf ten miles away.
I should have been there,
when the clock of your heartbeat stopped —
darning a prayer for the size of the hole,
as lungs collapsed like old cocoons.
Eyes wide open for the Fall —
it’s a season as well as a fact.
We can’t exchange
these tired carrots of our bones
for brand new pencils in a box.
Consider this a thank you note:
I’m grateful you refuse to skip
the parts of life that tell
our eyes a bomb was here.
All our ankles, all our knees are arguing
with Waterloos of daily chores.
I think of times when touching toes
were take-for-granted music bars.
Five days after surgery,
I roll your socks in condoms
over wet erections of your will.
Vacuum while you shower and dress,
squint in case I’m missing dirt.
Bending down to pick up soiled underwear
could snap the fragile paperclip.
Standing is a stale cracker under weight.
Cheese we were becomes a scar.
We talk apart the wars that won —
go home to rest a thicker shield
as bullets build behind our backs.
These front-row seats of death we own
would make us pale applesauce if not for
specks of cinnamon, of being there
as hours grow bruised, become the worm.
As years play tricks, as menus fade
where sweaty glasses parked their rings,
I ponder how lonely the path would be
without your footprints next to mine.
From bookends sliding down a shelf,
we learn to meter what remains
on pages with their binding loose.
So this is how agape reads —
the seed that makes the jam the jam.