After your mother dies, you will learn to live
on the edge of life, to brace yourself
like she did, one hand on the dashboard,
the other gripping your purse while you drive
through the stop sign, shoulders tense,
eyes clamped shut, waiting for the collision
that doesn’t come. You will learn
to stay up all night knowing she’s gone,
watching the morning open
like an origami swan, the sky
a widening path, a question
you can’t answer. In prison, women
make tattoos from cigarette ash
and shampoo. It’s what they have.
Imagine the fish, gray scales
and black whiskers, growing slowly
up her back, its lips kissing her neck.
Imagine the letters of her daughter’s name
a black chain around her wrist.
What is the distance between this moment
and the last? The last visit and the next?
I want my mother back. I want
to hunt her down like the perfect gift,
the one you search for from store to store
until your feet ache, delirious with her scent.
This is the baggage of your life, a sign
of your faith, this staying awake
past exhaustion, this needle in your throat.
-- Dorianne Laux