In Mourning

Being the Oldest Daughter

My mother’s death is another body: she flaunts herself, takes up too much

space in the marriage bed, ruins my closet, wears my best black skirt,

side-zipped up her thigh. Spins and twirls in my slip,

color of a baby aspirin, color of a dulled sun. As if now my mother refuses

to be a mother, has no interest in the children

who cry for her, demand Sippy cups of milk, want

to settle in her arms in my favorite green chair.

She won’t touch them, refuses every embrace.

But don’t worry: soon her death will undress herself, she’ll unveil, but never

in the dark, she wants all the lights on, she loves cheap



Don’t talk to me about the throat, the lungs, any red road to the body’s interior.

Don’t talk to me about how, for so long, it was my favorite metaphor.

Now I picture my mother’s lungs.

Being the Oldest Daughter 

who gets the texts on her phone: peace, love and strength to you!
Thinking of you! Stay strong!
Who is offered gifts of scented bath crystals, body wash?
Important to stay clean and lovely.

Let me know what you need, people say.
Maybe I need nothing.

Alone I roll away curled in a blue cotton blanket bundled like a child.

Metaphors for a Different Ending

An endoscope’s black and silver fish tail.
PET Scan machine a big plastic donut, un-sugared.
MRI, loud as a car crash.
IV drip a watery popsicle.

But she refused all treatment. And so the tenor and the vehicle split apart.

Being the Oldest Daughter

Walking out of the hospital into late morning brightness in New Orleans with my sister,
after giving away our mother's glasses,
on Jefferson Highway, watching the people our age, perfectly healthy and well,
people who still have mothers,

I’m filled with fury at everyone’s good health—

The Tenor and the Vehicle

Grief is a plate scraped clean.

Grief is a sun-bleached sheet.

Or none. Or neither. It’s a dish rag she used in the kitchen, stuffed at the back of a drawer, torn,
mildew dark—

Copyright © 2021 by Nicole Cooley. This poem was first printed in Diode, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring 2021). Used with the permission of the author.