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Wives and Mothers
On a beach, forgotten
they met, what beach?
she was watching her silhouette
in the water, going down
in gold into blue
his car borrowed, she entered
as if it were her own life
as if she knew the curve of his ear
her lips had tasted honey
First loves are like roses,
for five years the gulls took her
then dropped her body far out at sea.
He watched until they changed into clouds.
With his own hands he placed
her into the ground, carved her name
into the stone, planted a cactus
between the letters
How could he have known that cactus
would grow for forty years until it
covered her grave with
a perfect sun of needles?
She of the blunt fingers
cooked like her mother (whom she hated)
recipes from the old country
lungs in garlic, stewed fruit, postcards
with small poems at midnight saying
forgive me if I have hurt you
please tell me how -
I will squeeze away your pain softly
like a whitehead
under the blanket
my thighs around you
The mother of his son was deaf in one ear
and with the other she refused to listen to him.
She had five telephones, each a different color
and all were connected to her brother in Minsk.
She would talk to her brother behind closed doors
but when her man called, she yelped in front of
the child. She divorced him at four in the morning
on a crabby strip of toilet paper torn from her pain,
I don’t love you any more, what will become of the child,
you have tried so hard to be a father to him.
She made love to her psychiatrist, they sat in facing
rocking chairs masturbating at each other in Russian.
Her tears painted footpaths down her face powder,
their son wiped them away. Every Monday, Wednesday
and Friday she would practice yoga at Madame Rubinstein’s,
lying on her back on the Afghan rug she brushed shoulders,
knees with other unhappy women. She liked the feeling
of sharing and Madame’s herb tea which had not changed
in ninety years.
She was glad the alimony came in on time every month needing to
devote herself full time to the child whom she felt sure that as he only
had one parent, required his mother’s full attention.
Hands flowered in suds she washed each plate
carefully, different plates, different kitchens,
the hands always the same, efficient impersonal,
the few square feet of floor scrubbed repeatedly
until the tiles shone with age, love’s duty never forgotten.
This is what she knew, these plates, these pots,
these clothes to be folded, laundered, folded again,
each child a man now, yet held on to by this
arthritic bond of duty.
So close, they disdained her attentions, turned their
heads away as she retrieved their discarded garments,
emptied the pockets, eyes unfolding scraps of paper
for anything missed, a clue to their misdemeanors
perhaps, an overdrawn bank account.
Urging them to fly the nest she called them home,
just one more time, cleaning again, folding again,
cooking again, just one more time.
And then she thought of her own mother crippled
with pain and resentment alone in her tiny room
bare of old furniture licking the cracked spittle
of her years bereft of all save drying patches of scorn.
This time she thought, I’ll build my own life, do the things
I’ve dreamed. Soon, she thought, washing the last plate,
folding the last garment switching off the last light, soon.
© Johnmichael Simon
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