for Nellie Carter
Sewing a white cap over herself
like a baby buckling its fontanelles
the mother I made bobs and breathes.
If the air is moist, she’ll answer when I ask:
who is my true love? why do we suffer?
what does Bill Merwin apply to his skin?
I respect her Silent Sundays,
her Thirsty Thursdays when all she does
is peer from her brown drift
and burp and gloop.
I won forty-five dollars
on the mother’s numbers.
Oh mother, I chant,
you teach the clouds to hover
and hold together. You instruct
the gas station canopies.
You are poufed and on patrol,
a Macy’s parade mammogram-
-balloon: govern us, o governess.
Next to her I’m a dentist’s chair—
my too many parts,
my scrubbed unplantable womb.
Next to her I’m buzzing
upholstery and I tip back at a touch.
Lately she’s cranky, her bog head
liver-spotted. Her answers are questions
or jokes, I’m not sure.
If a tray falls and no one hears it,
do you still tip the waitress?
What is the sound of one hound crapping?
There’s a question blooming under the question.
How much Woodford could Chuck upchuck,
if he would chuck?
I’ve got to use her while I can.
I tell her I’ve always wanted bangs
thick as a Gouda wedge,
my neighbor’s wifi password.
The mother’s skin is scaling to plaster.
She demands simple syrup and public radio,
calls Beethoven the great decomposer.
She wants to be “fed like a Twitter”
even after I explain.
I cover her jar with cheesecloth
and she hums “Here Comes the Bride.”
In the banana’d garbage
she flirts like a thirties foundling
tapping “Animal Crackers in my Soup,”
cheeks of her old egg face
chubbed and greasy-painted,
sweetness deluding as the word “sweetmeat,”
which sounds like flesh
but has no animal at all,
none that I could come from or consume.
The library books are due again,
bamboo’s on the march. Everything old
or uncontrolled: just now, hailstones
from a month put to bed dodged the night
nurse, slugged the bright narcissi.
Rooms that smell of pencils will soon
smell of pencils and mud. Crack them
open: outside, a brown grapenut
shivers little in its blue bowl:
first bat of spring. Oh bat, night tinder,
riptide-kerchief, danger bird: safety us
from April, feast into our air. Echo out
this failed plot of garden, fasten down
at least what’s here: buried garlic,
poisonous bay, yellowed stalks of thyme.
Laura Kolbe's poems have appeared in Agni, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Awl, The Cincinnati Review, The Colorado Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Yale Review, and elsewhere. Her fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in Bookforum, The Literary Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is a doctor in Boston.