--EVERYTHING SEEMS CHARGED WITH MEANING
We take the photo in the same place each year,
by the grand fountain,
shortest to tall
as if there’s nothing else to mark the time
but our slacking skins
and a different set of sweaters.
We are his daughters
who sang sweet notes and
invented excuses for being women
instead of ladies.
Nights we fought in silence with locked doors
and shattered mirrors.
“No one got hurt,” we’d always say.
and one hack.
The photographer prompts, “On three, say…Father!”
and we do
because Mom’s asked us,
because she’s standing there
remembering him again,
loving Dad like we should have.
Ways to Remember Birmingham
She gives her pets
Hunter and Red Mountain,
Oak, Valley, Tuscaloosa.
The gold fish are 1st through 9th Avenue.
She has the city tattooed across her chest so she can see
the campus in the mirror when she’s on top,
but the truth is
it’s been a long time,
and the fish are floating belly up
and the dog has diarrhea
and the embryo inside her has grown bad-boy hair by now,
his hands and feet itching
to make their way into the world
with or without you,
you fucking bastard.
She says, “But I’m a bleeder.”
Her eyes are alarm clocks blinking.
Her knees bounce.
These places are so white and wide open,
like heaven or a very clean tomb.
The woman coming up to us
is not a nurse but her voice is soft.
She says they’re ready for my daughter now,
Walking down the bleach-walled hall
I hear her tell Amy not to worry,
that there’s still time,
that she made the right choice.
Amy lifts her rag doll head at that,
a thin smile parting open,
looks over her shoulder at me and says,
I’m not a murderer after all.”
The woman says, “Lordy, Lordy, I wish I was forty.”
She is rolls of things. She sings like Aretha, louder than the choir.
I wish she was mine.
She sweats freely. Her pillbox hat bobs like a red boat on her hair.
Her arms are meaty waves.
She has a son.
She touches his dress shirt at the spine.
Her fingers are thick,
a protector’s hands.
She never turns to my pew. She just sings,
belts it out.
The kitchen is not big enough for your new dress,
so strawberry red and made of a billion beads
that flick free when you pivot and twirl.
They match the shade of your lipstick,
the smears of it on your teeth,
the hue of your animal tongue as you
salsa with your new boyfriend
while my sister and I watch.
Dinnertime we sit at the round table
and take hands
and give thanks.
I catch my brother peaking,
one eye opened,
sizing up the cake.
Years and years later
I’ll recall this moment in the hospital,
how he was always where he couldn’t be,
taking his eye off the wheel.