57. Things I Can Smooth: The Lines

She perches on the powder-blue cushion that pads her brass vanity chair. Lifting her chin, she smooths a dab of cold cream into the barchan expanse of her throat. The tray on the counter is mirrors and filigree. It holds the fluted light, reflecting back a tessellation of silver lipstick tubes. They stand alongside brow combs and kohl pencils, upright in frames whorled with beads and rhinestones.

Fanning out on the glinting surface are brushes thin as needles and broad as petals, brushes as coarse as thistle and fine as down, virgin brushes and brushes worn to nubs. For the baser applications, tissues the color of an Easter sky pop from the top of a crocheted box. Cotton balls in a nesting tower press their breathy faces against the glass.

At her back, a wooden cabinet with worn brass handles opens to stacks of folded washcloths and bath towels. The linen fits in a perfect geometry between containers holding a disco-flash plastic spectrum: Pert and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, Aqua Net and Johnson’s Detangling Spray. There, too, extra bars of scented soap, boxes of band-aids for every joint and laceration, hair nets and pink sponge curlers and shower caps and amber tonics with squat-lettered labels fading into oily glass.

Up around the ceiling and down to the chrome fixtures and hidden pipes drifts a perfume of clay dust and crushed flower, spun cotton and wood stain.

From a round box, she lifts a fluffed ball the size of a kitten. Powder whooshes just inside the low lace neckline of her satin slip. She plucks from a bouquet of combs and hairbrushes a pick to fluff her thinning auburn curls.

On the side of the makeup case she carries in her purse is a tiny mirror. She chooses a tube from among the silver array and twists it awake, tracing color across her mouth before dropping the lipstick in the case and snapping it shut. In the small rectangle of glass, her lips peel back. She frees a blue tissue and dabs a coral smudge from her teeth.

 

39. Things I Can Deliver: Her Eulogy

The girl who climbed trees in Durant, Oklahoma, ignoring as long as possible the suggestion that this activity may be less than ladylike, she was long grown by the time I came around. But I caught a glimpse of her when she and Dick outfitted that van for the open road, and she scrambled over hillsides all around this country collecting gems and geodes.
 
The college graduate who came to Dallas and strode through downtown with her girlfriends, in awe of the fashions at A. Harris and the big city bustle? She was a distant memory by the time I was old enough to have joined her on those walks. But a glimmer of her appeared when she’d stroll through the aisles at Neiman’s on the way to the Zodiac Room, pausing to stroke the beaded silk and saying, “Oh, just imagine the places we could wear this!”
 
I wish I could have met the young woman who whirled around the USO with her flyboy, but she showed up at the bridge table, and stocked her cabinets with board games and playing cards, and let us flounce through the house in the puffed sleeves and petticoats of her square dance dresses, and opened her treasure boxes to gild our necks and arms with costume jewels.
 
That girl who’d let her big sister Cecil take the spot as Mima’s culinary apprentice while she herself was skinning her knees climbing all those trees? When she became a young Navy wife and realized she’d actually have to cook for that husband of hers, it would have been a kick to see her rooting through the barrel at the PX and choosing a nickel edition of Fannie Farmer and stumbling through her first pot roast. But I saw a bit of her when she cranked a whole orange through the grinder for cranberry salad, and tossed just the right splash of ice water across the flour for pie crust.
 
I could have learned a lot from the dedicated young mother who cared for those five babies while setting up house and community in Hawaii, Maine, Florida. But she appeared in front of me when, at 86 years old, she got right down on the floor and played with her infant great-grandson.
 
I wish I could have held the hand of the young widow with two of her children still in school, who took the searing tragedy of losing a husband and transformed it into the courage to up and move to Germany. But I did see her seek adventure in the everyday, driving all the way down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market on a Saturday to marvel at the cantaloupes and east Texas tomatoes, lifting them to her nose and wowing at the fragrance, the warmth, as if each was the first she’d ever held. I saw her boldly stay open to the world even as her body set its own limits. Walking the pool, gabbing with friends; accepting every invitation to travel; serving families in need through her volunteer work; consuming the Dallas Morning News every day; and meandering all the way through each new issue of National Geographic.
 
Mardy was Gramma Mardy by the time I came along. She would sit with me in the breakfast nook and drink her tea. But she was so much more than a tea-drinking, nook-sitting gramma. We’re working the crossword together, digging through the dictionary, patching together word origins and giggling at the rickety bridges strung between the gaps in our knowledge. She wants to learn it all. Then the puzzle is done and she’s reading the headlines out loud and punctuating them with fiery commentary about this senator or that scandal. Then she’s up feeding birds whose habits and classifications she is eager to grasp. Then she’s skimming the arts page for a gallery or a foreign film.
 
Then, invariably, the people come.
 
The phone rings and it’s one of lunch ladies. Rick and the kids stroll up the patio waving. The doorbell rings, and Nelda is there with a question.
 
Gramma invites them in. Curious, affable, delighting in whatever is going on in their worlds, she offers a chair and questions, and soon they’re re-drawing the blueprint of old neighborhoods on the map of their collective memory. Where did Sleepy Reese end up? Did the neighbors actually lay that driveway on Daddy’s property? Which year did Eddie Dominguez graduate? Oh, and what about old What’s-his-Name? Then we’re laughing and hollering, trying to reach consensus, and barring that, nudging the discussion into more agreeable territory. Soon someone’s going to pick up Dickey’s barbeque or getting suited up for the pool or arranging for church then lunch then a trip to Durant. And all of this activity just blooms up from the mere act of being in Gramma Mardy’s house.
 
I say I wish I could have known the girl, the young wife, the mother. But maybe I did know her. All those glimpses had stories behind them, and the stories were right there, still very much alive, ready for me to weave into my own. I knew a much fuller version of my Gramma because people called and came to the door knowing they’d be invited in. Made comfortable. Asked to share.
 
Witnessing and learning about the lives of her loved ones – that was Mardy’s way. She cultivated openness, welcome, HOME. Everyone who was part of Mardy’s circle knew they’d have a place where they could come and where they could belong. Cherino, Crestover, Allencrest, Hideaway. She opened the doors to Paul, Lissa, Brin, John and Nancy, Rick and Carrie, Jamin, me. Giving all of us at one point or another a waystation and a launch pad, or just a place to catch our breath. And the other grandkids – Jonathan and Jennifer, Brendan, Dylan, Sadie too – all of us knew that Gramma’s home was ours.
 
This is not an accident. This is a way – Gramma Mardy’s way – unique and extraordinary. And because all of these generations of friends and kin have sat at her breakfast table laughing and arguing and telling the stories, I met that red dirt girl who became the kind of woman I hope to someday be.
 
It breaks my heart that my Gramma didn’t make it out to Virginia to stay in the condo I bought two summer ago – the first home of my own. It would have been so nice to share my table with her for once. I spent the first year there guarded and shell-shocked, protecting my solitude, my hackles up against the obligations attached to membership in a community.
 
But this year, as Gramma’s health declined, it’s almost as if some fragment of her spirit rode the currents over 1500 miles and took root in me. I’ve finally started to look up and become friends with my neighbors. To host parties even when my house is a mess. To follow my son when he jets off with his buddies, and go meet their parents and siblings.
 
Maybe that woman I only caught in glimpses over 41 years waited for me to grow up enough to meet her, fully formed, as the curious, vibrant, tough, and tender person she always was.
 
I am lucky – in fact, we all are so lucky – to have been on the receiving end of her love. She’s here in that love, in me – in us – every time we open the door and invite someone in.
 

26. Things I Can Ignore: Contrails

Way up there, a tiny plane skates across the early spring blue. Here, the bus wheezes up to a stop sign, waits its turn, then groans on. The sun has hours yet to make its languid descent into rooftops and half-clothed branches.

Scuffs streak the plexiglass. The eyes are trained to peer right through.

What would it be like to see only this in here? Only what’s behind? I still have hopes of Corsica. Each year another scar cuts across the frame. The edges blur. It’s clear enough, though, for today: Maybe almond trees, maybe the Pillars of Hercules. Or Galapagos. The Badlands at the very least.

It was just now, or near enough to now, that I pressed through a scouring wind to summit Mt. Snowdon in Wales and cooled my blistered feet in Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas. Such a thing could happen again. Those engines up there could carry me to the source of the next pool where my toes touch bottom as fish nibble down to live skin.

Another renewal.

It’s not impossible.

Or if I choose to walk lightly, I could use my own traction. Starting on this very bus, I could cast off on a winding route to the borderlands where the last of the wildcats hush their flanks against night.

The sky is a door. I am 41 and just came from the gym where I pulled 70 pounds and crunched 100 times on an incline bench.

Now my pooch who narrowly missed her date with a Chinese abbatoir flies like a formula one race car across the dog park that backs against the freeway. She turns fast enough to send mulch and dirt blasting into the sound wall. I shed my jacket and hurl the ball, my arm getting looser now with each lengthening day.

Now I sit in solitude at a dim table at the Indian restaurant. I taste it all: the whang of the cilantro leaf, the spring of my jaw against cubes of cheese, the smoke that lingers in papered boils on the flatbread. Tabla music patters against the sizzle and clank of the kitchen.

Now I bend to this page and rub the dull lamp until it glows.

Everything here is here. Everything here is forward.

What luxury, this illusion.

How fleeting.

The texts ping in, one, then six or seven more. All day in bursts, each sounding a claxon. She is in the ER. She is prepping for surgery. She’s in the OR. She’s in recovery. Her hip is fractured. Her hip is mending.

If she makes it through the next three months, she’ll turn 95 in July.

What must it be to come up out of the fog of anesthesia into the even more stifling smog of dementia? To see only through scuffed glass, to see only the scars? No forward. Not even a here, really. The machines that didn’t exist in your lifetime then did, now they buzz across a silent blue you can’t see. Now they carry other people away into pockets of the world you’ll never know.

If you’ve even lost the comfort of memory, what then? Where do your eyes alight?

I am 41 and grip hard to delusion. This blank page is an open window. That sunlit frame holds no pane. I can step right through and cast my line up against gravity, snag that jet and let it ferry me into another fable, one waiting just for me.

I ignore the microscopic particles, the wind and all it carries, strafing the body of this vehicle. I pretend the light falls through unimpeded. Against the mounting evidence, I claim this day and this endless tomorrow.
 

Kid Gloves

From the steamer trunk where we keep the dress-up clothes I unfold a pair of ivory gloves. Tiny rhinestones dust the wrist and blanket stitches trace the bones. I slip them on. Their buttery grip hugs my skin. I can barely bend into a fist, but that’s not what they were for.

Her voice flits in from somewhere back then. Little golden-haired me, cracking my knuckles. She, fretting.

“Oh, sugar. Don’t do that. You’ll have to wear gloves when you’re older.”

How is a kid supposed to consider her own hands? Her own faraway adulthood? The mind, kinder than the most well-meaning loved ones, guards against premature knowledge of time’s merciless work.

The threat’s vague consequence quavered at the edge of focus and refused to sharpen. Would my busted flesh swell taut and hot? Maybe, but I couldn’t stop. I took my knuckles into the bedroom, the shower. Shame pricked, echoing every snap. There I would be at 40, I imagined, carrying regret like a scar, tucking once-were-lovely hands into kidskin shrouds.

In the trunk now is her scent. Maybe it’s the scent of her house? By the time I knew her, one was the other. Traces of it slip loose of language. Musty? Floral? Sort of like old dollar bills. And bath powder. It’s nicer than it sounds.

I pull off the gloves and begin to look through things my little boy has ignored. A few pieces of coral costume jewelry. Pins with cloisonné baubles dangling from gold chains. I unfold a floor-length embroidered Chinese robe. It is far too big for my bird-boned grandmother, but who in the world would have worn it? I dig deeper. Tucked into the corner of the trunk is the aquamarine pillbox hat, all metallic threads and glittery flourish. Once she had a dress that matched. I’ve seen the faded photos but they don’t begin to capture the gleam. This getup belongs in a Mardi Gras parade.

At the bottom of the trunk rests a folded, floral something-or-other. Table linen? An apron? I packed it all in a rush before the house and all its contents were sold at auction. I shake the fabric out to its full length and marvel at this piece of her.

I had forgotten how bright my grandmother’s taste. Big rust and teal flowers leap across a creamy field. It is a sundress, darted and tailored while also falling out in soft flare. The whole creation is edged in a turquoise border that rises into ribbon-thin straps. It is a masterpiece. I trace the tiny seams.

We say, “I wish I’d known them when they were young.” Maybe if we don’t meet them as children, it’s a failure of imagination, not timing. Every one of us is still a kid, still climbing the tree, still ducking from a blow, still burning for that first kiss. I knew her as a girl without even realizing it. I was busy looking at my hands picturing them old. She was looking at hers, remembering.

She danced in this dress. She danced even when she couldn’t anymore. I try to imagine her in it, her burgundy curls kissing her bare neck and shoulders. That image, too, refuses to sharpen into view.

I do know this: before children, my grandmother was a petite hourglass of a thing. My barrel chest would have swallowed hers whole with room left for dessert, yet her cup size was at least three times mine. Even before she began to shrink, the top of her head barely grazed my chin. She always wore lipstick.

I hug the dress close, carry it to my room, and shed my jeans.

With deep breath and a little tug, the zipper – did it really just do that? – makes it over my ribs. Fabric hugs me in a pinch at the waist. The chest gapes open enough to stow a sack of flour but the rest of it slips like gift wrap around my frame.

I couldn’t be shaped more differently than the woman who first inhabited this dress, but it stands a chance. I wish I could give her a fashion show. The last of those was nearly twelve years ago and the other way around. I sat in her bedroom and helped her try on the blue chiffon she chose to wear into the ground. How is a young woman supposed to consider death? The mind, still kinder than truth, continues to stand to stand guard. We laughed together on her bed. It never occurred to me that it would be the last visit, even as we chose her pallbearers and picked out her silk slip.

On that trip to Oklahoma as in all the others, I ran out into the early morning, charging up past farms to Cemetery Hill and back down around the 4-mile loop. Flushed and stinking, I stretched in her living room while she ate breakfast in her robe. “You’re such a strong girl,” she said, patting my thigh with a powder-milk hand. I felt immense next to her. Bovine. But there in her own body, she was giddy with the memory of motion. “I used to touch the floor,” she said. “With my palms flat like this.” She tried it, right there in her robe, giggling as she dangled her tiny fingers and reached.

The ghost girl twirled into view. Her hips swayed. I couldn’t even see her right there next to me, fanning out those feathery hands. She was still a dancer, still turning one pirouette after another into breathless almost-flight.

I understand now because I feel it too.

Not in the dress which I peel off and hang in my closet. No, her pretty was – is – so much finer than mine.

No, I feel it here in this other now.

Now, when I go down to the basement. When I wrap my hands three times at the wrist then up through the fingers, locking the thumb. The music is cranked to a click shy of distortion. Megadeth. Nirvana. Anything that drives. No sleep till – pow pow – Brooklyn! I watch the man and lick my lips.

Then the bell.

Then.

I use my teeth and rip the Velcro tighter on the glove. My hands tighten to fists.

I am up, one – one two. Remembering the rhythm but also slipping outside of it. The first time we went three rounds. Then four. Then, once, half drunk on Shock Top, we cussed and slogged through five rounds. I know retreat is not an option so I give in. The weak left, the strange feet, the wobble. Then, the grrr, the slam, squatting for the upper cut, shuffling for the left hook that always feels like a wet noodle compared to the right. There is a clock but no time. The only event is this shuffle, this tuck, this goddamned bag, this blow. Except that it’s not true, at least not yet, because when the exertion is so total, I’m counting every beat. When he grunts, 30 more seconds, come on, I think fuck. Then haul back, hands up, wham.

When I forget to keep the curl tight inside the glove, all the padding in the world doesn’t help. I feel the crack and the moment of wrong impact a split second too late. The skin slips. There is no rest. The heavy bag lets you know if you’ve slacked or misjudged. It smirks while you wobble. So, I zero in. I hunker down, square myself, and pound.


In the morning, my body groans in the shower then winces its way into trousers. Knuckles burn. On my way out the door, I double back, remembering to take the dress. On my lunch hour, a co-worker sends me past all the bargain cleaners with on-site tailors to the custom seamstress one neighborhood over, telling me that suffering the cost is better than regretting a discount.

The bell chimes as I open the door. From between poofs of sheathed tuille, a little woman pops out and scowls. “What you need done?” She is built like my grandmother but does not smile as much. She scoots me into a dressing room. “You put it on,” she points and disappears.

Under the fluorescent lights, I strip down. Five panes of glass stretch to the ceiling, each claiming a unique angle. I step to a platform scuffed with the eager feet of hundreds of brides-to-be. I drop the dress over my bare shoulders and freeze. Then I flex, unsure if I’m seeing something real. Whose back is this? The sea-blue ribbon tips over and the zipper gapes. Muscle rises there, rippling, coarsely cut. The scapulae, biting against ridges like the twisted braid of a banyan tree. Can this be me?

The tailor returns with a hedgehog of glinting quills strapped to her forearm. Gathering and folding, she tut-tuts. The gap is huge at my schoolboy chest but she does her best. “Not easy,” she says. “Have to cut. See? Here and here. Line is. . . tricky.” The dress is so many shapes in two different fabrics. “No one make like this now,” she says. “Nice,” she says. She bends to the crenellated hem at the foot where the inverted castle wall notches up into the field of the skirt. “Take long time to make.”

She orders me to reach for the ceiling. My arms shriek. Last night’s 5 ½ rounds were a rout. I made all the moves but the bag did all the damage. The tailor steps back and assesses. The skirt flares from my waist and kisses my calves. I twine my hands together in the air. The scrape there, the purple place between the pinky and the ring finger of my right hand, barks. I’d let my grip fall open at the wrong moment and I’m paying today. On a sweaty strip of webbing now limp in the bottom of a laundry bag, a bit of my flesh festers.

“You have to wear bra,” she says, grabbing at my breast and getting a fistful of the impossible darts. “Still too big here. Okay?”

“Yes,” I say. “Okay.”

She leaves and I straighten the straps, catching sight of my hands. Brown from the sun. Bruised. They are dry, too. I’ve never had the discipline for the Pond’s my grandmother applied religiously. Here, a sheath of rattlesnake diamonds. I turn in a slow circle. The skirt whispers open

Oh, sugar. You’ll have to wear gloves when you’re older

and I stretch my bruised hands wide.
 

Swing Low

I say
I wish you could see me now
but I don’t
believe you would recognize
sight. Eyes are useless
underground. Blind as phantoms
housed in walls
long since deeded to no one
of shared blood. What if the final form
is not trumpets and Velvet
Moon, not 3-4 blessed be
croon and gleam, pearl winged
Harry James melting
open cloud to gold leaf
Tiffany, but
a burrowing
creature
rooted under our feet? A mole
does not know dark or fear
burial. All this color
I imagine
only up on the surface
of waking
you see
through vision’s simulacra:
An endoscope
of whisker
magnifies. Scent intrudes
as stimulus while skin-stretched
drum converts wave to danger,
pleasure, prey,
mate.

I must look
the way you see
me now: as heat cracks
at cliff face. As confluence
of salt and iron pounding
back canyon wall
thuds measure
after measure into belly
bowl and marrow.

The echo.
The boom.

Up here I may
have a corner
on the market of names
for blue
but you take the curve
at full tilt
without the help
of oxford
and steel, with no street
sign written in any language
called language
yet you discern
humus and loam,
sixth-sense know the tongues
of strata you now inhabit
and have become
without any of us up here
understanding
that you did live forever
after all.
 

Keep Stirring

When you heat the sugar and butter, you have to keep the temperature low. Never stop stirring. This means either working backwards or having a helper handy. Ideally both. When it is time for the vanilla, you will not be digging in the cabinet for it, unless you like your caramel smoked. The candy thermometer will become goopy and steamed, the phone will ring, and you will remember you forgot to butter the pan. Do not turn around. Whoever is on the other end cannot chop the pecans for you, and that person has already bought Christmas cupcakes for her kid’s class.
 
You wanted to use your hands. This is what you get: a burnt fingertip from believing the thick taupe suede to be a solid thing, just because your tongue was fooled into longing for something it would have had anyway, given one teaspoon of restraint.
 
Nothing you buy from the store will be half as good as even your most mediocre effort. This is what you know to be true, even if the sequined and tiara-studded confections behind the glass case whisper their siren song. Keep stirring.
 
Do not check the recipe again or grab ice for your blister. You know the steps by heart. You know the hard-ball stage cannot be rushed and will never be passed – never, because the kitchen clock always moves as if treacle has gummed the gears. Turn down the flame. You should not be able to hear it roar. The only sound that will come is the low moan of the air making its sluggish escape from the candy as it roils. Keep the spoon moving.
 
The recipe card is written in your grandmother’s script. Shaky, even then. What a thing, her hand: here and also not. Perhaps alive somewhere, in its way, because of microbes and the relentless pull of decay and rebirth everywhere, even in that crimson box they lowered into an Oklahoma hilltop a decade ago. A decade!
 
This, too: she, alive and also not. The jagged flourish of her script is frozen in motion all the way onto the next line. The 3×5 card is yellowing and blotched with boiled fat, caramelized Karo, and something hard. Another dish, maybe? This recipe, caught in the holiday crossfire. Cornbread stuffing, perhaps, or the clove and orange peel glistening on the crusted pink hide of the sacrificial ham.
 
She did not stop until her heart did. But which was she? The heart? Or the girl whose powdered cheeks betrayed a heady blush as the boy whirled her across the dance floor? She kept her hands so pliable, the old lady skin as delicate as honeysuckle petals and just as fragrant. How she managed this is one of life’s great mysteries. She stood over boiling sugars and popping Crisco. She took up the catfish who’d been, just that morning, blissfully sucking mud at the bottom of Murray lake, and dragged the poor fellow through bread crumbs and egg before releasing him to his oily fate. She donned the apron and held at least one corner of that restaurant’s kitchen on the hollow bones of her narrow scapulae.
 
Even so, nothing caved in. No part of her contracted into hardness. The blisters didn’t callous and the wounds of her unplanned servitude never thickened into scars.
 
When she was in her final year and no longer venturing near the stove, she asked me to rub her hands. Beneath that most delicate tissue purpled like Monet’s garden were thick, arthritic roots delving down to the springs below, blocking the way. She ached all over. “Oh, sugar, it hurts something awful.” She had spent a lifetime trying to restrain the tears ducking just behind her voice. She’d spent that same lifetime failing.
 
I took her hand and pressed into the tender meat between the thumb and forefinger, holding back my full strength because by then, she was made of air and moonless night. Her marrow had long since leached out into the prairie grass for the copper cattle and oil rigs to pull back up when the time is right.
 
Those last years, she was draining away but age had not taken her best self, only the extra, the unneeded weight, the constraining thoughts. The only things left were softness and pain. Also those relentless tears. Also the bottomless hunger for touch.
 
They say that if luck favors us (or scorns us, as the case may be) with a long enough life, each of us returns to infancy.
 
With my fingers, I drained what I could of the useless strength in her hands. What was the use of muscle and its dedicated ache? What did she need with holding? I had taken up her place at the stove, the ink, as the bearer of a name on my own more robust shoulder blades. My only job was to help guide her back gently to the womb of a woman waiting on a hill in the morning sun. That matriarch had herself returned to forgiving clay. At last, the serrated edges were worn from her mother’s tongue.
 
In the trunk I hauled from the foot of my grandmother’s bed into my own home 1500 miles away, I find the gloves she had worn in an earlier life. The embroidered delicacies are white kid and cotton, hand stitched and studded with graying rhinestones. Also from that steamer trunk rises a gust of the same aging honeysuckle that clung to her and forever softened her.
 
This was her secret? Something so simple? The gloves do not fit over my swollen knuckles. Thick digits already leathered in the first third of my time on this planet strain at the seams (though I do try to force myself into that silken sheath. Who wouldn’t?) I put them away for a keepsake since they will never grow to envelop me nor will I, God willing, ever shrink sufficiently to squeeze in.
 
I close the trunk and wonder if her determination to stay soft was the toughest part of her. Her man may have cornered her in that crucible in the back of the restaurant. Necessity may have demanded she plunge her hands into whole chickens and dice bushels of yellow onions for the soup. She may not have had any real choice but to stir and stir those cauldrons of beef and butter beans for paying customers. Kids and mortgages greeted the young, bewildered families at the end of the war. And maybe it was impossible to buck a man built of the same stuff of stud bulls and dust bowl hickories.
 
Maybe all of this is true.
 
Also, she chose.
 
Do not be fooled: selecting from among just one option is its own act of defiance. Submission is never truly complete as long as the one doing it decides to submit. Somewhere down below even the most bending grass is one deep root that cannot be split, not even with the sharpest spade.
 
And so she stayed. With him, she stayed:
 
Soft, the most tender, and forever threatening to tremble into a watery mess. She stayed:
 
Alive ten years beyond him, then a few more. She was the one whose hands rested in the warm grip of her grown sons and granddaughters during her final months. It was her timeline that claimed a stretch in which the tears could come without reprimand. She let them come and found, to no one’s surprise but her own, that on the other side of pain, when someone finally rubs it free, all that’s left is a heap of stupid giggles, memories of first kisses and big-eared boys, and a craving for the caramels made in the cluttered kitchens of the women who taught us to keep stirring.
 

She Would Have Been

Mary Frances
teary eyed still
smiling while
wringing her hands,
a half laugh
blushing
the quiver of her chin.

She would have been
shuffling in the house
slippers, her bird-boned
legs a dampered clapper
inside a bell of ruby velour
shushing the floor
and swaying her towards
Eddie Arnold
who croons from the bedside
table to fold
her in sleep.

She would have been
dusting powder
soft folds below her arms,
whispering powder
blue vein into crepe
chiffon before putting on
her lips. She would have been
calling me
Sugar.

Sugar, come over here.
Let me have a look at you.

Her hands
both

busy laying out the satin slip to wear
to her grave
and open
to me. Always opening,
she would have been
102, teary eyes still
like a mouth
turning up
for a kiss.