Witness how my mother’s mouth,
still moving, can’t say
her words. Smoothed down from sand
to glass, it pours honey, good,
river, but can’t explain
what she’s left me: three dolls
on the dresser, lined up
in some careful order. In the mail
comes her will, last paper
she made when she still knew
her gulls and cigarettes and lace—
comes her last mouth
salt and coarse as those years
she walked down night sand
and beached her fury,
when she raged herself ocean lonely.
Witness how she once drove 300 miles
and stopped twelve short of her last
daughter’s door, unwilling
to see me hold a kettle, looking out—
willowed like a lover at my sill.
She drove home to a dark desk.
Typed a list of children
she’d keep small as dolls, slight
as the names she’d made them,
leaving witness, hereby, beloved—
just these words. Testimony.
No Little Bird—just share
and share alike. Like what? I want
to ask the mother trapped
in onionskin, the one
whose hard light stains the pulp.
But my mother’s mouth is still
moving. She’s left it
to this limp and starless
body. What can I say to it,
what can I tell the ghost
in her nightgown, her empty hall?
Watch me hand over the basket
of dolls, watch her lift one— blonde
as I never was—see the skin
of my mother’s face go wild and tender.
Witness this: she’ll press
its rag braid to her lips.
Which Way Is November and How Many Feathers
Birds and Families of Birds, say books on the table I won’t open.
There is a groaning in my right ear when I lie down, which is a friction of liquid or crystals or
maybe bits of nest.
My mother was like the bird in the storybook who wore the kerchief round her head;
she walked off in the wrong direction to find me.
I stayed on the ground.
I covered myself in her gleam: dark rain, pins of cold pine.
There is a groaning in the ocean. There are mollusks turning in sand.
Inside my mother’s body, cracked windows are swimming.
To think about kingfishers instead
is to forgive the mind.
Nidicolous: reared for a time in the nest.
To hatch featherless, closing their eyes to the forest.
There is a groaning in my right ear when I lie down which I hope
is the ink of ghosts.
In my shoulder, a crown of panic birds, prayed from sugars.
They want to tell me what we’ve forgotten we’ve forgotten.
They sing to the stained drums and out the windows
of their skulls.
Each hatchling born helpless, say the heavy books.
My mother’s hands won’t say where the stamp goes on a letter,
not even if the stamp bears a lark, its once-bold barbs now made of whispers.
The groaning in my right ear can’t be the Atlantic.
I am tired of phylum and superorder, a tree webbed
with the blot of the species, the season’s black lace.
My mother would like to see the beach again, but not in November.
And she’s not sure of my name.
Sally Rosen Kindred is author of two poetry books from Mayapple Press, Book of Asters and No Eden, and 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, Missouri Review's poem-of-the-week web feature, Shenandoah, and Kenyon Review Online.