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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.

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© Johnmichael Simon



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