What can I tell her over breakfast when she says
her son suffers from madness, and because there
is no mental health, he has ended up in jail,
and she is relieved, because at least he might
be safe there or he might get to see the doctor.
We are eating egg-white omelets; we are counting
carbs. We are buttoning ourselves in our clean dresses
and high-heeled shoes in order to bring home the bacon,
doing what we need to do and “It is what it is.”
Her granddaughter and daughter are living with her
in the one bedroom. Nights, the daughter lounges by
the pool, looking at her phone, while she teaches the child
to plant seeds in a flower bed she feels bad she does not own.
She tells she cried in the car coming here; she did not know
me then. She thought we would be talking to each other
the whole time about what we are selling, what
the other might buy, but somehow we left that behind
over the toast with the tiny pots of strawberry jam.
Who can explain all this luxury, all this despair?
Or how we all hold our secret shames so close
and gloss our lips with “Cinnamon Fire” as if that were
some legitimate form of protection. Cinnamon Fire!
She just turned fifty. I tell her wait ten years—you
won’t know more, but you will get closer to forgiving,
because it is all happening on a wheel that spins
so fast. Why not stop to look at the pink flowers
you’ve planted with your granddaughter? Why not feel
your bare toes in the good wet earth? We play with the crusts
on our plates. The waitress takes the coffee away. We
are strangers again, each carrying our lonely fear
our children won’t find their way, wishing for them
some inner logic—sacred trust of earth and self, that exists
for each of us so far within, so far under the skin, we
can’t even begin to say what it is made of; it merely is,
poised between love and grief: the blue space we call wonder,
which is merely the dew on the grass, the shadow the sun
makes as it rolls over the vast skin of the Earth.
Copyright © 2023 by Sheila Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.