The mother of my childhood
is propped up by the vacuum handle.
Her arms disappear at the ends
into filmy sink water.
She scrubs the kitchen floor the hard way,
sponge instead of mop. She’s tired.
She won’t stop
my father’s cancer from sweeping
through our tidy lives,
but she is armed
with spray bottles and paper towels.
My father’s smoking
transformed the bathroom vent
from flute smooth to caked fireplace ash.
I pictured his lungs changing texture,
his heart no longer a red flame
but the doused black matchstick.
I tried hiding his cigarettes.
He always found them. Eventually,
I learned the joy my mother took in controlling
what could be. I polished the vent
with a pretty white cloth,
tenderly as she did her collection of tea spoons.
~from While the Kettle’s On
Apologia for Not Wanting Children
I come home from work, collapse
my bags on the table, find you
standing over a boiling pot.
You give a low whistle
as Jarrod Dyson steals third on the radio,
then purse your lips for a kiss.
The dog gallops in, a few beats later
than he used to. We wince
as he scatterpaws over hardwood.
He shuffles, not limps, away. You exhale.
I place my wedding ring in the dish
where it clinks against yours,
fill the sink. Outside,
the chickens dance the mashed potato,
dig their clawed feet in dirt. I twist
the dishwand inside a coffee mug.
When Alex Gordon hits a home run,
we rush into the living room
to watch the replay on the muted TV.
Nothing is missing.
No baby cries from a blanket
spread on the floor as if for a picnic
of bottled breast milk and dry Cheerios.
No chubby arms reach for me.
No hands open and close
like lips desperate for words.
But nothing is missing. You have
my full attention. I have yours.
~from Ghost Sign