Sunday, May 14, 2017

"I Can't Remember if it Was my Dream of my Mother's": A Poem for Mother's Day

"Matrilineal," drawing by Aliki Barnstone

I Can’t Remember If it Was my Dream or my Mother’s

Once recounted, the dream runs constantly beyond
me or her. I creep up a stone stairway, fever
pushing me higher up than I can bear to go.
I’m afraid of heights. Far below
my cliff-walk, the lake is rimmed with mountain pines,
and my mother stands willowy in a full skirt, calling me.
I can’t catch my breath. Her voice is a breeze
rippling the water and merging into twilight
that blurring all, exasperates me.
I want to go to her yet keep climbing toward
fireflies and ferns, hot and chilled—
and still she hollers my name with the crickets,
step down, darling, step down to Mama.

My footing’s lost.
The stones are slick with moss, little waterfalls
surround me, too beautiful, disorienting.
If only my head lolled against her shoulder or
my cheek pressed cool against the car window,
and patches of cloud hovered over the dirt roads of Vermont,
then slipped through the radiator grill or
beneath the carriage of our Buick Skylark,
 we’d say we’re riding on clouds and hear
the tires roll onto our gravel driveway.
The porch light would part dusky velvet curtains
and the windshield be a movie screen where maples,
each leaf-point star-tipped, welcome us heroines home.
Then I drink the Milky Way, my mother leaning over my bed
to shape the holy sign over me three times
and make me feel God’s names hymning in my skin.
She lays a washcloth on my brow, and I breathe
her perfume, the lilies of the valley on her wrist.
My mother says fever tangled my yellow hair
and stained the dress she made me before my brother’s birth.
In case she died, she said. A whirr. A seam
stitched in seconds. She works fast.
My grandmother’s even hand finishes
the velvet piping around the collar, cuffs, and placket.
My buttons are askew. I can’t remember
if it was my worry or my mother’s, which of us acts,
sketches the scene, recalls, and calls cross over

 from sickness to health, come back to me.

This poem appears in Dwelling