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.