To My Mother on her 90th Birthday
Everyone who knows these old ladies grinning into the camera —
Silver hair, gleaming dentures, rhinestones —
Will soon be dead,
But my siblings persist with photos:
You and Loren, his lump hand on your shoulder.
Ethel May and Eula Bates hand you bottles of pink bath salts.
Patty Johnson gives a box of chocolates,
Cameras flash as if you were a Queen.
In the kitchen, I pile silverware, half-empty tea cups,
Dinner plates scaled in chocolate frosting
Knowing the photos will be forgotten in bureaus and shoeboxes
Mixed in with busty cheerleaders, red haired boys on tricycles, girls in wedding gowns,
Aunt Isabel in her blowsy pastel dress
That summer she poisoned the family on rhubarb pie.
But here in Arkansas’s summer heat wave
We conceal every doubt
And do our best to get it right.
You hurry us along saying, “Time for Dr. Phil”
While I circle the dining room popping balloons with a fork
Afraid any photograph will betray my heart
Where the chambers collapsed so long ago
Those years you moved us from house to house
To conceal our under achievements
As if you could make a Rambler into a Cadillac by switching hood ornaments
The era you surrendered to Lawrence Welk’s orthodentia
When my need for a mother’s touch slumped in darkness like a dying miner.
Only an ear to my heart can hear our voices from back then
Trapped in those chambers
Fighting for breath
Struggling to find some arrangement
To bring you back to life.