Elegy
       
    Barbara Deakins
When I go to the supermarket, I stare at all the meats. I want to buy a pair of lungs as a talisman against evil, to press them to my motherís chest and draw out the cancer like a stain. My father is a thin piece of thread. I learn to be old, think about old things. Time slows, each day measured out in treatments, the smell of the cigarettes my father lights. I fit the word remember between my lip and gum and donít spit, swallow the past as a thin brown stream.


I imagine I can feel the tumor moving
beneath the surface of her pebbled skin
a shark surfacing and receding
into the flesh, but it is just her shoulder blades,
each day they jut a little more. In my mother's room
even the light is quiet, the blisters rise
on her chest like bread,
the five spreading fingers of disease.

Her skin folds into ancient newsprint, into
wrinkled letters from old lovers. She is the
love-letter I have never opened, the letter
I run my tongue across to taste -- each day

there is less of her to remember, the clinic tracks
her disappearance, urges
her to eat -- and bite for bite I watch her,
following instructions, hope for hope we match
Christ in foolishness. At night

the TV sings His praises. The preacher
holds up his hands for the camera. She sits
upright in the dark, a distant island of His
archipelago.


*


My father is drunk again on regret. When he
kisses me, I turn away my cheek. Tomorrow
there will be one more invisible sore.
Static comes over the TV, even
her silence is a song of apples
crisp with the promise of winter.
What can remain after the wine, the bread
the salt, her porcelain hands
that served sense?


Memory--I kiss your salty lips and
dream the wash of forgetting.
At night the trains click past our house,
I watch them sway side to side, counting
the cars of forgetfulness, they are tongues
without interpretation.


I am watching my mother sleep. She wonít wear her false teeth, she leaves her mouth open, her lips red as a girlís around the empty hole. She wakes to say she can tell where it" is by the clattering under the floorboards. I have no idea what "it" is. The finches are fighting outside her bedroom window again, they amuse her. The males have turned golden and the females are fat for mating. It is March. In November she wept, afraid she wouldnít see their return. In March she is propped on her pillows and thankful. In April she becomes April.


I am dreaming alone in my motherís bed, the taste
of my own mouth could not be closer: I remember
how her throat eventually didnít work. She drank
and she could not drink, she drank and she
could not drink, she drank and I stood in silence.

I wonít let my father wash the sheets on her bed. Itís
been a month now. At night, secretly, I crawl into the
smell of her bed. In my right hand is written my name
In the other God lives
when I fall sleep I cover my eyes with them
when I wake up I am screaming --

I touched with a soft touch, it was not enough.
When the sores flowered over her breasts,
I spread gel across her skin, I touched
my own motherís breasts, her nipples wide like mine
burning into my palms: memory
of softness, the sticky pink sores.


*


I want to forget the hairs littering her bed sheets,
forget the smell of stale cigarette
smoke, the feel of the leathery skin of her burnt back and
every black mole on it. Forget my hands.

-- when they drew the lines on her body, I was in the sights.
Each time she mouthed her prayers, I was there.
In the radiation room she repeated her litany of
desire and I stood silent,
Death tied to my forehead, Cancer written on my right thigh.

I canít forget the burnt smell of her animal hair,
her skin splitting like a ham.
I keep writing the same letter to you and
you are the sun breaking over the filthy
river, the trains are swaying to the rhythm of your
voice.

I toast you in silence between the pages of this book.


Night. Tail lights gleam. The drops of blood on my motherís yellowed gown. She is riding in the passenger seat giving directions. When we get there she flees and hides in her grave. I wake up. She flees and hides in her grave.

-- the sorrow from this house is tar stuck to my shoe. I want her like bread. I've lived reading the lips on her vomiting mouth. When I danced my sweat smelled of grief and men found me intriguing. In the bathtub I saw again I have the same nipples as my motherís, the nipples I sucked and men have sucked for invisible milk --

I am looking now for the one who has Forget written in his right hand. I taste my clues on the skin of men and in empty glasses.



Barbara Deakins's teaches at the University of Syracuse where she is a candidate in the Master of Fine Arts Program. In 1997-1998, she was a Stadler Poetry Fellow at Bucknell University.


 
 
 
 

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