LIKE WOMEN OF LONG AGO


I. 

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. 

II. 

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. 

III. 

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?" 

IV. 

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. 

V. 

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. 

VI. 

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. 

VII. 

"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.