But now it’s her stooped body in queue for the slab, 
her blessed temperature you’re fiddlin’ with, and God’s
holy directive shifts accordingly. Your mother holds 
the tasteful funeral home brochures an inch from her 
eyes until their horrible words unblur, shakes her head 
at the insane cost of the gilded, pall-borne tribute she truly 
craves, asks again for whatever’s cheap. May her Lord 
forgive you as you just keep shuffling that cremation info 
to the top of the pile. You remember how stupidly she 
bobs her napped head to the wagging finger of God, 
God again, always God, how resolutely she clutches 
all the bluish notes in gospel—for her, “the fire next 
time” is not a frugal means of disposing of soulless 
shells, it is payback for a life clawed together outside 
of her savior’s cold little classroom. Oh, never you mind 
the lesson she drilled into you after a handgun blasted 
your father out of the world, what she said to end your 
bouts of snot and fever, your worrisome new habits of 
snatching tufts of hair from your own head and screaming 
the onsets of dawn—Your daddy’s not in that ol’ body 
— and you unrolled your eyes just in time to look 
that pliant, just in time to make her think you believed her.

Now that she has refused to the neat conclusion of ash,
you are thinking of all the damned reams of paperwork
glorious ceremony requires, the feel of scrawling your 
name over and over to officially end her. There will be too 
many syrupy, flowers draped over everywhere, the casket
lid flipped open, your oblivious mother’s vaguely 
whorish makeup job. You dread the hearse’s eerie creep 
through annoyed Ubers, the depressing pit, mourners 
sneaking cell snaps, taking note of your absence of ache. 
While this strange woman comparison-shops, zeroing in 
on the pauper’s special—Girl, what is a cloth casket?
you remember years of screaming her name into a dead 
phone after she scrubbed her whole history of your needy 
little face. Now that she is frail and beholding, you should
demand that she answer for that kind of love. Or you
can love that way too. Go on. Throw a match into her hair.

Copyright © 2018 by Patricia Smith. This poem originally appeared in Connotations Press/ Hoppenthaler’s Congeries, Jan. 2018. Used with the permission of the author.