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Left Alone to My Estates, Vol. 1 (1999)


I. Spiritual Garden
The land was a child she tended with a mother’s care,
With youthful determination, she killed the weeds
of insecurity. Warm exhalations of meditation
breathed her garden. The plants grew upright reaching for the sun
and fruity fragrance tilled her body and mind.
The land is barren and dry now, her voice buried
under dirt. She hopes that the ground will swallow her.
Roots twist around her legs and torso,
tighten the tendons in her arms and hands.

II. Cancer
After grandpa died my grandmother’s body
knotted like the cancer in her lungs.
Her day was a string of cooking—to escape
pain: couscous with paprika, eggs with onions and peppers,
and braiding her grief in complaints about her health.
Mornings she cried about cramps in her legs,
at lunch we heard wheezing in her fisted lungs,
during dinner she wanted to sleep—I think
she wanted to die. When she did die her lungs were spotless
from radiation. The cancer only ate her soul.

III. Thanksgiving Vacation
My father and I were picking up the rental car that would take us to see his family. I saw the excitement in his eyes and the nervousness—seeing his aging mother—in the shaking of his hand. We sang Dylan’s “Forever Young,” and laughed when he pinched his nose sounding like the voice on the tape. I turned on the last lonely note of a harmonica and saw his smile twist into a snarl. His eyebrows twitched the anger I remembered as a child. “Where are we? I can’t believe we missed the goddamned street. Why weren’t you reading the signs? Read the signs.” He trailed off cursing the universe and held a conversation with Jesus. We found Enterprise and he pounced into the rental office. I was glad he was going to follow me home. Pulling out of the parking lot I looked in the rearview mirror and saw him laughing and singing. I missed him and wished I could sit next to him again. He always went back to the song he was singing.

IV. Appalachians
My mother skied on these mountains
before complaining about sore knees and back.
On this trip I left her home to age and I think
how these mountains will change in a million years.
These great rocks are carved, cut, and stained
like the skin of a grandmother.
Thousands of years of pressure loosen the rocks
that fall like dead skin into the water-sink below.
Internal stress from gasses in the Earth
fracture the bones of the mountains.
11/29/99 (sectional)

Of Course Mama’s Gonna Help Build the Wall

When I turned sixteen I played “Mother”
off Pink Floyd’s The Wall for a fair
amount of that lonely day. Inside me
was a small child calling for silence.
I clenched my jaw and wanted to believe
she could hear my soft cries for help.

Before dinner I was called down to help
set the table with the silver tableware mother
bought, with my birthday money, believing
she was doing me good, treating me fair
by making herself happy. I cried in silence-
hiding my tears inside-but knew she loved me.

Eating her steak, bloody rare, she lectured me
about school and asked if a tutor could help
“bring up those low B’s.” I screamed in my silence.
She was only playing the concerned mother
wanting me to grow up smart and rich and fair
(with my money), so I held my tongue. I believed

the only way to grow up content was to believe
that the love my mother tried to give me
was real, like her emerald eyes and her fair
skin soft and smooth as gold. She wanted no help
from anyone and asked none from her mother.
Spending her youth in a house of silence,

no talking at dinner, she ate in silence,
consumed her thoughts and hoped her child believed
in the love she gave. I gave my mother
my adolescent heart hoping she heard me.
Her ears forgot how to listen. She didn’t help
when I asked, but I never thought her unfair.

She didn’t share her time with me, that was fair;
after living in a house filled with silence
why would she want a son to be loud? I helped
myself when she was tired and believed
the best gift she could receive from me
was never letting on that I didn’t love my mother.

I still tighten my jaw a fair amount and believe
being made from silence and spite ruined me.
My son calls for help but I have the ears of my mother.
10/14/99 (sestina)

The Last Burning in Autumn

Alone again, I rake piles of red and yellow.
The scent of fall–burning leaves and dying
embers of fires–reminds me of my time
with her. Naked, we spilled a waterfall
of bodies into piles my father had raked.
The trees stripped themselves bare
so we wouldn’t wrestle on the hard ground.
Cracked and dry leaves dropped between
our lips, kisses spit onto the ground.
Our smiles lost in the flurries of snow,
my tongue froze between my teeth
and her shivering came
after winter’s breaths.
Bodies shriveled,
we shoveled
our love to the curb,
under frozen leaves,
burning into colorless
smoke in swirls
of snow.
10/19/99 (exploded sonnet)