Not-Prayer in Which I Call My Mother All My Words for Blue
Maybe it was Mother’s Day. Maybe that was why
he took us out, his gift to her, a whole
star’s hard arc and ache without her
children. New hours empty as chairs. And
he put us in the Nova for the drive–I think
it was the gold car that swelled with our skins’
heat, then shrunk, got splashed and muddied
when we drove, maybe, up Grandfather
Mountain. I was three. My grandfather was dead
and maybe I knew what that meant.
But maybe I thought he was the mountain, that
that’s what happens when you die.
It was a steep climb. I was afraid–
my middle cramped back then whenever I was
without a mother, in that cold space under ribs
she’d made–and I held to my chin, in the damp
backseat, humid with my bones’ dumb fear
of the mountain and of men, my blue
cotton blanket, which had a name I wouldn’t say.
He stopped in the strange grass and made us
get out of the car. How far did we walk? Did
we have to say we loved the mountain?
There were cows, vast as winds, and clouds that knew them.
Something hard and clear was happening to my face
in the green stalks and the violet of below.
To walk here you had to push the long grass down
and your breath had to shove the heavy air.
This was a place without: its breath cracked
open sweet, its breath a bright wreath, cold indigo.
And now he was running toward me, his voice gone
taut around my name. He lifted me out
of the field, the stricken grasses, maybe
he was angry, my white shoes were sludged
and rank, I’d stepped the wrong way, and the smell–
he was carrying me to the car, holding me
fast. Then I knew I’d dropped my blanket
in the field. My arms flapped panic
past his shoulder, flared from the heart’s
backseat–my mouth left me, tearing
for the field clouds and blue, ripping
lonely. I know he turned, I know my father
turned and went back out into those clouds
and saved it: the wild God-awful flap
thanked my knees when he threw it in
and slammed the shrieking door. Still
I know it: love and the stink
of us, when the body gets back
what it needs to believe. Love or shame
cranked warm like an engine, smelled
soft and safe and ugly, baby-
blue. Maybe that’s when we turned
the car around and I got warm, all alive
we had to go back down.
Sally Rosen Kindred is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Where the Wolf (Diode Editions, 2021), which won the Jacar Press 2021 Julie Suk Award. Her most recent chapbook is Says the Forest to the Girl (Porkbelly Press, 2018). She has received two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council, and her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Poetry Northwest, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and Kenyon Review Online.