The first time I saw my mother, she'd been dead fourteen years and came as a ghost in the mirror, plucking the hair beneath her arms, and humming a bossa nova. She lotioned her chapped heels and padded her bra as if she were alive in the old way. She said I was born with my cord wrapped around my neck like a rosary, and she knew God, the doomed father of her days, wanted us both. Before midnight she plaited my hair, hemmed my skirt, sang lullabies she'd learned on the other side of the flood. She lifted her dress to show her bones shedding light on a stillborn fetus accidentally raptured into her ribs. She said she'd choose her death again, obey any pain heaven gave her. Years ago she watched a man ride a diving bell to the bottom of the Amazon to face the mysteries God had placed there. The chain broke, and they pulled him to the surface smiling, stiff, refusing to open his fists. They broke and unpeeled his fingers. No one wept or fought to hold it. She covered her eyes so she wouldn't see what God, in his innocence, had done.
We prefer to do it with the lights on,
the Victrola scratching How long can it last?
against the tremble of curtains. Patient,
we learn the walls, their glossary of knocks,
translating harlequin and dust. What we
know lives here—lonely bone star blossom
of the spider plant, lost bee on the sill,
the recorder’s static alive and puckering.
I tell you our future is the guttering candle
in the basement birdcage. Prove it, you say,
and I set both its shadows swaying. Our history—
the attic window, how the unseen surprises
the photograph. You ask what is there
to be afraid of. I ask the past to make itself
known to me. We only have to make it through
the night, so we close the dolls’ eyes. Danger
midwifes the heart’s spring. We are cabbage roses
grooming the parlor air with unsexed pistils.
I have this kiss and its sleepless itinerary.
Your lip, pink logic and cushion. The door
tests its lock, and I let you ruin each light
orb and whisper with physics. If we’re sure
something is here, then we have to find out
what it wants. A voice on the recorder, sweet
as gravecake—don’t go. We can admit it wasn’t
proof we came for, it was the question.