Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.
And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.
Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.
I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.
I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.
My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.
I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.
In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.
When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.
Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.
I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.
From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.
Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.
Renee and I, hers—in the urn by her desk
and mine—alive in an apartment forty minutes
from here, probably watching a telenovela, frying
plantains, texting me goodnight. Renee’s mother isn’t
really in the urn. She’s in the blue wall,
the beach landscape painting, the dog
barking at the unexpected, the jangle of silver bracelets.
We are all carrying our mothers, and we are all better
daughters with the dead. She tells me I am wise,
and all I can think about are the moments of my unwiseness: driving
and sipping margaritas from a water bottle, the bruise
on my arm and taking him back. Her husband
is away at the family cabin, and she is glad
for the space. My husband doesn’t exist, and I am
sad for the space I make my home in. I buy sunflowers
and goat cheese, throw a dinner party for the ghosts.
I don’t know Renee’s mother’s name to send a proper invitation.
I don’t know the names of the women in my family
past my great grandmother. How will I call upon them
when it’s time? Will I call them Mary or Venus
or Yemaya? I’ve yet to burn the palo santo, the sage.
I want to leave behind a legacy of light.
I want to leave someone better.
Copyright © 2022 by Diannely Antigua. This poem appeared in Narrative Magazine, 2022. Used with permission of the author.
were the unsent letters she’d left me years ago
and which I hadn’t had the heart to read.
I’d found everything else. Or rather,
everything that could be found
on paper, loose and bound, large, small,
smaller still, the size of fortunes fluttering to the floor
like moths, a message on each wing.
So many poems, by me but mostly others,
some on slick paper I’d cut poorly from a page.
My mother always said I was bad at scissors,
and I’ve often accidentally cut myself
as if to prove her point. But now, both parents dead,
it was time, I thought, I had the time and
courage, I thought, and I found the letters—
I was going to say, in the last place I looked,
but of course, where else?—and when I read them
they were a marital memoir full of disappointments
as familiar to me as my own
skin, and the bitter recriminations she was desperate
to impart so that I might . . . avenge her? forgive her?
I can’t say for sure. All I know is
I buried them both, in separate graves. I held their bodies
and most of their words and made my own from theirs.
I lay them down on this white field, another, another,
and another. If you look for us, look behind
the letters, beneath the field to the blood.
Copyright © 2023 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.