Liner Notes to Benjamin

Most nights our mother
makes a gesture while she sleeps:

one hand balled in a fist,
while the other slaps the headboard

& she chokes. 

*

Too many times
she’s strolled a snowy dark
with eyes rolled back in her head.

Balanced a bridge rail
to tempt the wind —
mocking the body’s balance.

*

Brother, come.

Spread snow along the floor
& shape your feet in little indentations.

I’ll follow you into the fields.

*

When I hold my breath
an inch under bathwater,

you crouch by the sink
with a bird in your teeth,
both eyes puddled & stark.

Why do you smile
when I speak your name,
spin from my whispers, & fade?

*

Forgive the times
I begged
because the wine was gone

& her hands began
to itch,

because I could not
carry your name.

All she wished
was to touch your lips,

turn their tarnish to feathers.

*

We have these mittens:

booties woven blue
with lace like silken pearls

& this photo:

dad bearded,
both hands pressed to her belly:

            one black kite
            in a sky beginning
            to smear.

Lice & Feathers

Chloe’s booties
left unfinished & kept in plastic
in a box beneath the shed.

When alone, I’d
wear them on my thumbs

& imagine her heels first wobble
then the want to run away.

*

Months our mother
gnawed her tongue & spit pieces of it

into day old glasses of water.
They’d float like fetal tissue

then stick to the glasses like warts.

*

Priest prayed
& doctors mocked their prayers
offered pills:

one white tablet
after each sudden tremor.

*

Twice I heard a baby wail
in the wall behind my bed.

*

Twice my mother bound my mouth
blew smoke inside my nose.
*

I’d dig until my nails were gone
her wail a drowned violin.

*

She’d pick until her skin was scarred
in search of lice & feathers.

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