Baby Ann has nothing
Left to lose, seeing the way
A throat can be cut like a thick cord
Of field cane-a dangling larynx
Gurgling and bubbling, sweet with sugar,
Sliced by willing hands, a craven attempt
To silence reed-like voices which grew too strong,
Too sure. She awakes, wet with a fear she can't recall.
She stands before the basin,
Tired, stripping away the ragged edges
And limber spines of collard greens,
Every now and again stopping to stretch
Her svelte legs—now beleaguered by sciatica.
She arches her back, a knee bend paused at the floor,
While the plumbing calls like a bleary voice luring her to:
Listen, come closer. The hazy recollections of a dream.
Mama, I say. Mama,
Are you all right? Didn't you hear me
Calling you? Her blank eyes gape
As she works nimble lips to hold tight
To a prayer. "Shush," she says, and I do
As she's asked. "Damn it! Shut up!" I try
To grasp this hoarse, tired voice. "It's Dot,"
She says, "Couldn't you hear her-plain as day?"
My mother sits at the breakfast table,
A Bible limp beneath her agile hands. Her languid eyes
Watch and play half-hearted games of tic-tac-toe, as
The blackbirds in the distance mark swift X's between
Muntins framing cobalt heavens. A religious woman,
She's reconciled herself not to ask God for anything
Her own hands can't provide. This year her only sister,
Dot, became a vast blue serape for a cold God.
Travail has replaced the act of mourning.
Daily rituals-beating coiled rugs, morning coffee
Stoked with whipping creme and Karo syrup-transform
The necessity of living and breathing into a disciplined artform.
Often, she finds herself apologizing through a shimmering mantilla
Of choked tears. "Excuse, excuse me," her voice wavers,
Unable to remember who called who-the day, the hour
-When she and Dot chatted away their last thin dimes.
Dot comes to her, a voice beyond
Consciousness, safely mingled among a world
Of women who bore dreams like children while standing
In the field, then heaved them from the furrows
To suckle at their heavy breasts. When such women
Look to heaven and see faded seams of water,
A blue reflective pool, and in this pool the emptiness of
Transience mirrored in their eyes-they know God.
"Shhh, listen close." This is what she says.
Baby Ann stands, a rigid nerve before the stove.
"You mean you really can't hear it?" In her mind
The gurgles and bubbles (the ruckus of the kettle)
Erupt through the silence, evoking twine reminders
Tied around the thumbs of the living-an invisible thread
Of sapience tirelessly basting the tattered edges of reality:
Those with nothing...left to lose...wage the fiercest fight.