What Daughters Come Down To

For what I’m sure is the fifth time, my mother
plugs in a flat mournful hum where the words
I love you too should be. Then she hangs up 
without saying goodbye. I squeeze my eyes
shut, try to imagine 82 autumns in the bones,
in her rasping joints, in the cool, jaded thump
of what is still a migrant’s ever-arriving heart.
However, I believe she is required to love me.
I wonder what God was teaching her all those 
years, those day after days coaxing raucous 
hips into deadening girdles and gray A-lines 
so she could lose her damned mind to organ. 
Was it all theater, a screeching of north when 
south was what itched her, all of it mock belly, 
the nails, splinter-spewing cross, some sly
spirit habitually overloading her spine, making
her dance thirsty and unfolded? How could all 
those wry hymns and hot-sauced hallelujahs 
lead to this hum, clipped connect and hush?
I am hundreds of miles away, but I can see
where she is sitting, hand still on the phone.
Every surface in her tiny apartment is scoured 
and bleached, draped in a disinfectant meld 
of rainshower and blades. The kitchen glints. 
Her rugs are faultless. The purpled tulips I 
have sent for her birthday are insistent feral 
beauty, a blood in the room. Like her daughter,
they have bloomed in the clutches of vapor. 
I love you too, she thinks out loud, but can’t.

Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Smith. This poem originally appeared in POEM, International English Language Quarterly, Vol. 2. Used with the permission of the author.