The screech of the recycling truck jolted me awake.
It was just after dawn and the huge trucks were already tearing
through the neighborhood, shrieking brakes keeping rhythm
with shattering glass and clinking cans amidst barking dogs.
I panicked then remembered the bins were out.
The little dogs shot out of the room, their tiny bodies
quivering with excitement and pent-up barking.
Before this moment I dreamt of Shimá, my mother:
she slept under a calico quilt, made with squares of tiny purple and yellow flowers.
She made our clothes from such fabric when we were children,
In my dream, I covered her carefully and patted her sleeping shoulder;
her breathing was soft and labored.
I smoothed her hair and caressed her forehead.
I sat at the foot of the bed and listened to her slumber;
her breathing evened out as the dream filament settled around us.
Perhaps as she slept, she relived the old Fort Wingate Boarding School days,
or maybe she and my father conversed as in all those decades past.
Maybe she relived everyday events—cooking meals, soothing children,
or visiting with relatives at the kitchen table.
In the final weeks of her life, I could not fathom her dreams
or waking thoughts, but in this morning dream, Shimá and I
were joined by our quiet breathing and lingering gestures.
In this dream, my mother and I were alone and silent.
We were alone and silent.
Soon the flurry of the recycling truck faded
and the usual morning calm returned, the sleek little dogs
came back to bed panting from a job well done; they licked my arm in unison.
I said, “Biighaah, Nizhoon,” praise for a job well done.
They fell asleep instantly, sinking into deep borderline snoring.
Outside the bedroom window, the morning was bright and still,
save for the cool breezes and calling of birds;
their innate songs encircled the quiet houses and scattered cacti.
Down the street garage doors slid shut as neighbors
maneuvered out of curved driveways to begin the workday.
Just then I longed to return to this first dream of Shimá.
I longed for the serene space she created,
now I knew she could do so, even in dreams.
How I yearned to make coffee for her one more time,
to cook breakfast—boiled eggs, black coffee and hash browns.
In her final weeks, my sisters and I fed her spoon by spoonful.
She would smile as we recounted childhood memories;
listening then talking, murmuring and remembering.
Now the morning sunlight sweeps through the house.
I put on coffee, go outside to stretch and pray.
The Holy People had already passed through
yet fulfilled my yearning to be with my mother.
They reassured me that she and other loved ones
are with them, and they exist in an arc of quiet solace.
The Holy Ones graced me with a glimpse of our future together;
the dream, a reprieve from the lonely, seemingly bereft present.
Copyright © 2020 by Luci Tapahonso. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.
Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.
The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.
Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!—
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "The courage that my mother had" from Collected Poems. Copyright 1954, © 1982 by Norma Millay Ellis. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, www.millay.org.
She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.
I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.
But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.
Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.
From Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
When I was a child I would run
through the backyard while my father
yanked dandelions, daisies, thistles, crabgrass,
mowed, rearranged the stones around the porch—
the task of men, though I didn’t know.
Blushed with cartoons and chocolate milk
one Saturday, I found a bee working
a dandelion for its treasure the way
only God’s creatures can, giving
and giving until all that is left
is the act itself—and there’s faith, too,
my mother used to say in her magnolia lilt.
It comes as it comes—there’s a road to follow.
When I swat the bee, I plea in triumph.
My father, knee-drenched in manhood,
grins and his gold tooth glistens a likely tale.
And when the bee stings my ear,
I run to him screaming as my mother
runs outside hearing her only child’s voice
peel back the wallpaper. She charms my ear
with kisses. This afternoon, I notice a bee
trapped inside the window as my mother
on the phone tries to still her voice
to say her mother has died. I wonder if he can
taste the sadness, the man on TV tells the other.
The bee is so calm. The room enlists
a fresh haunting, and the doorframe bothers.
To believe her when she says—
as the bouquet of yellow roses on the dresser
bows its head and the angles of my clay bloom
with fire—it’ll be okay, is my duty as son.
My mother sits in the hospital in San Antonio,
motherless—my mother is now a mother
without the longest love she’s ever known.
My mother who used to wake up
before the slap of sunrise with my father
to build new rooftops. My mother who wrote
“I pray you have a great day”
on stupid notes tucked in my lunchbox.
My mother who told the white woman
in Ross to apologize for bumping into me
as I knocked over a rack of pantyhose.
My mother who cried in Sea-Tac airport
as I walked through customs, yes-ing
the woman who asks, Is it his first time
moving from home? My mother who looks
at me with glinted simper when the pastor spouts
“disobedient children.” My mother who was told
at a young age she’d never give birth,
barren as she were. My mother, my mother.
What rises inside me, I imagine inside her, although
I’ve never had a mother leave this earth.
I’ve never been without love.
Copyright © 2020 by Luther Hughes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
From In a Time of Violence, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. All rights reserved. Used with permission.