Mother as Conjunction

by | Aug 10, 2021 | Issue Twenty Two, Poetry

Spring 2020

I’ve had daughters move home

on their way from one frayed relationship

to the unknown. The tear-swollen eyes.

The packed hatchback, mauve bedspread

smashed against the passenger window.

This is different. Two of my grown children

are here for the duration. Mother

as noun. Mother as verb. Mother

as conjunction.


How old were you when you learned

mauve rhymes with drove? That segue

is not spelled segway? That the bird

you hear when you wake is a mourning dove,

not a morning dove? How could you

have ignored the sorrow in its song?                         


I’ve organized the spices in the lazy Susan,

labels on top. Who was Susan and what

made her lazy? It’s all about the z sound,

the sibilant. I arrange the jars alphabetically

and turn them round and round: adobo, anise,

basil, bay leaves, chervil, dill. A doctor friend

is in charge of a Covid unit in New York City.

They turn the patients like rotisserie chickens,

draining quarts of sputum from their lungs.


The lieutenant governor of Texas says

Some things are more important than living.

I can only think of one thing.


Dream: we have to sleep

on tree limbs, tensing

our bellies to keep

from spilling over

the sides, afraid

to drift off.


We are removed from the groove

of consumerism, the fresh-purchase

rush of a new plush throw

in our ongoing attempt to create hygge

(“hoo-gah”), the Danish word for coziness.

We move our sluggish bodies,

not spending but spent.


I don’t know what I love more:

forsythia’s wild lion mane

or the word forsythia, the way

it coaxes the tongue from

behind the teeth. In a typical

spring there is a sudden eruption

of yellow that just as quickly

turns green. But this year

I witness the gradual transition,

each petal inched out by a leafy shoot.

They say the virus might spread

through aerosol. In a 60-person

choir, 45 people fell ill, one member

infecting the others through song.

Say forsythia, forsythia—say it

safely when you are alone.


I insist on rituals—coffee on the back porch—

as if demanding a photo of my old self

holding today’s newspaper, proof

of a former life. A robin assembles a nest

in a hedge, layers it with twigs and grass.

Soon there will be eggs the color of—

of Joan Baez’s lover’s eyes, I joke

because there is humor here

in the architecture of the ordinary.


This is a good time to master

the difference between lie and lay.

Lie, lay, lain. Lay, laid, laid.

Was I lying in bed or laying in bed

when I heard the mourning dove?

People lie and chickens lay, my teachers

used to say. Faulker: As I Lay Dying.

The president lies. The president is lying.


All of the restaurants are dark.

People break in, sleep on the booths,

drink the booze, spoon mouthfuls

of industrial-sized cans of soup.

Our favorite sushi place has a red room

reserved for overflow where they let us

sit, even on a quiet Tuesday.

The hostess doesn’t ask—she just

takes us to our favorite table

in the corner, its vinyl seats repaired

with duct tape. Above us, a framed

print of Mount Fuji is covered

in clingwrap to protect it

from grease and dust. We’ve read

that 70 percent of restaurants

may not survive. The president says,

They will come back. They may

not be the same restaurants

or the same owners, but they will

come back. Will people come back, too,

but with different names and faces?


Dream: it’s the last night at Carly’s,

the bar where I served cocktails in college.

As a gift, Carly gives us cassette recordings

of ourselves when we were young.

I am 14 and talking about a book

in my high school English class. I use

the word linear. I barely recognize

my own voice. That was the year I bit

a wart off of the base of my left index finger.

I still have the scar. I go to thank Carly

but can only hug myself.


Will there always be before and after?

This is the orderly independent clause;

the scattered shattered after is this.


The federal government ordered

an extra 100,000 body bags this week.

The dead are stacked in refrigerated trucks

that hum through the night, a one-note

lullaby droning in empty city streets.


We bathe in the sameness of days,

soft water sliding over our skin

like silicone. Is there a word for tedium

tinged with fear? A man in a black mask

leaves groceries at our door, rings

the bell then disappears. The boxes

are dusted with April snow. He has

replaced bananas with butternut squash.

Because they are both yellow

or both start with b? I will never know.

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