You’re beautiful, sister, eat more fruit,
said the attendant every time my mother
pulled into the 76 off Ashby Avenue.
We never knew why. She didn’t ask
and he didn’t explain. My brother and I
would look at each other sideways
in the back seat, eyebrows raised—
though, lord knows, we’d lived in Berkeley
long enough. He smiled when he said it,
then wiped the windows and pumped the gas.
I liked the little ritual. Always the same
order of events. Same lack of discussion.
Could he sense something? Attune to an absence
of vitamin C? Or was it just a kind of flirting—
a way of tossing her an apple, a peach?
It’s true my mother had a hidden ailment
of which she seldom spoke, and true
she never thought herself a beauty,
since in those days, you had to choose
between smart and beautiful, and beauty
was not the obvious choice for a skinny
bookish girl, especially in Barbados.
No wonder she became devout,
forsaking nearly everything but God
and science. And later she suffered
at the hands of my father, whom she loved,
and who’d somehow lost control
of his right fist and his conscience.
Whose sister was she, then? Sister
of the Early Rise, the Five-O’Clock Commute,
the Centrifuge? Sister of Burnt Dreams?
But didn’t her savior speak in parables?
Isn’t that the language of the holy?
Why wouldn’t he come to her like this,
with a kind face and dark, grease-smeared arms,
to lean over the windshield of her silver Ford sedan,
and bring tidings of her unclaimed loveliness,
as he filled the car with fuel, and told her—
as a brother—to go ahead,
partake of the garden, and eat of it.
The swollen season gives birth to another police procedural, but who doesn’t love a good detective? A dead fall. A heater, angry to be awoken, burps up the summer’s burnt dust in my face. Before her cremation, the family swore they’d removed Nana’s wedding band, but all pockets turned up empty afterwards. It’s a miracle the ring hadn’t been lost sooner, dancing from finger to finger as her body’s bones made themselves known like a barn caving in a beam at a time. Infection spreads like fire across a small town. I’m passing through Logansport today, this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Barreling forward, forty-eight in a thirty to make Mass, when Mama says, why all this hurried death in your poetry? Bells at noon. I daydream of picking open a tabernacle with a wiry hair from my beard & a hairline sliver of silver to gorge on my crisp God, half-hoping Christ tries to intercede. The Bible tells me: “anyone who does evil hates the light,” & no matter how brightly I bite back, the Bible never changes its mind. Lord, help me to discern the difference between persistence & insistence, indulgence & rigor in every laugh, & the two chords my clavicles ring when plucked. Help me grin through their high pitch twangs, the way a good father listens to his child learn to play the violin. I’m still learning to pick up my feet when I walk, stumbling less through names of famous philosophers at smart parties & it’s Spring before anyone’s ready & I’m wondering how to build a case against the bees plotting to ball their queen to death without becoming a fanatic of my own. A death at the legs of so many lovers seems a difficult death to explain to children & this: if a button breaks your fall, it doesn’t make it luckier than other buttons. Listen: squint & it sings of simple addition. A kernel cooked in its own slick. & you, dear dear, forgive me when I take you for steak & say nothing after a second Sazerac, after you unwittingly spread horseradish on your bread instead of butter.