The low tone of the humpback whale
travels quickly through dense water.
Males intone for hours, a haunting
sound calling for a mate. But the whisper
of the female to her calf
protects it from nearby killer whales.
My mother moved in a medium too heavy to navigate,
her words barely distinguishable from breath.
She walked deliberately, as if in deep water
where she might lose her balance. I came to know
her low tone the way an animal knows its own species.
We lived in Biloxi near the Gulf. She loved
to sun bathe while watching the dolphins,
their sleek gray bodies and dark backs visible,
then invisible. Always agile, playful, they’d bound
up to see which boat to follow for food.
In the morning, Mother would walk to the kitchen
without looking at me, pour her coffee,
return to her bedroom and close the door.
It took the jolt of a full cup before she could speak:
dark liquid where love could not penetrate,
my mom lived beyond what’s tender, estranged
from birth when her own mother
left the hospital without her.
Once, at a Shell station, my stepdad left her
in a rest room. It took nearly an hour before he realized
she wasn’t next to him. The nervous attendant offered
her the chance to sit inside, but she with her stoic
shrug, smiled at him saying “He’ll be back”.
Once my Husband
He arrives at the bookstore
lilies ablaze on one arm, a cane on the other.
Haltingly he walks into a neon haze,
his face scanning the aisles for me.
Married again with three children,
his MS progressing, he's not the cocky
young man. He sits off a bit from the others,
face averted as I read. I'm nervous
and then I'm annoyed at myself.
Back then, how the poems scared us.
Whenever I wrote, he'd come up behind me
ordering juice or lunch, anything to peer over
my shoulder, to find whatever wildness in me
was on the page. Even now I wonder
what might hurt him, what I should hide.
But later, when we have coffee, he
strokes the book cover, his hand gliding
over my name. He's shy, but he's clearly pleased,
remembering fragments, people we knew,
places we lived.
Awed by what falls away,
from the terrible mistakes we make -
I nearly burn my tongue on the latte.
Priscilla Orr 12/20/17 – in process