by Judith Skillman


White noise from the freeway,
white skies of winter,
and, in the body—
where blood once circulated
from the heart
to the tips of fingers
and toes—in the spine
a pinched nerve.

You picture flattened discs
knotted together—you
the once supple gymnast,
the dancer singled out in class
for pointed toes
sweeping a suspended
hardwood floor. You wore
black, held the pose
of string pulled through
neck to head as your youth
arched and swayed.

That back and forth becomes
a cramp in the hip
as the pendulum swings
between your wedding day
and the embalmer
who will dress you
in plain cotton, pull a thin covering
over those questions
whose answers no longer startle
or require.


Our Mothers’ Light

I recall my mother wearing her bra and slip
beneath a robe, already showered.
I remember Venetian blinds drawn,
curtains pulled against the dawn.
By the time I entered the kitchen,
sour-faced, glum in my adolescent depression,
coffee was already percolating
in its glass-lipped vase.

You tell me your mother still wakes at 4:30 am,
opens up the house.
We’re the lucky ones.
Other mothers I’ve heard of—
alcoholic, depressed themselves,
allowed marital struggles to eclipse
the children they bore, the age
those children wore until they came of age
and found mates
to recreate the chaos of childhood.

This is not to say I’ve escaped dysfunction.
We also had fathers.
Nonetheless our mothers were safe houses.
Let us bless Mary and Bernice
for their clear-sighted looks and unadorned
figures, these almost nuns
who lit an inner room
merely by lifting a length of brocade
away from its hook. Who smiled upon
the pains of growing.

Let them remain nimble-fingered
from the last war, multi-talented,
able-handed. God knows the winter birds
still flit and land on porch rails
as if courting the radiance
of egg-bread and blueberry scones
braided to tables.