A woman downstairs is speaking Spanish on a cell phone.
She hasn’t taken a breath in forty minutes. Her task is to guard
the rice pale women that sit beside her in wheelchairs asleep
in the shade. They are like the shredded skin of exotic insects.
Exquisite. They are feathers and cotton. They are kites.
They once had New Year’s Eve to think about. They had lovers.
They had many shoes. Today my mother showed me pictures of herself.
It was 1944. She was black and white gorgeous. Her dark eyes pillows
among the uniformed men all devilish and legible. The tenements and
walk-ups plump with community. There were no shopping malls.
No endless rows of freeway lights. There was no sorry in her eyes.
One moonlit night, while my father was dying
I heard a hum of voices through the wall. It was very late.
I loved the sound of them talking. The rise of question.
The pause. The rise of answer.
They spoke in the language of walls.
As they faded from black and white to color
my father died. Now my mother curses the deaf,
the spoor of sparrows, the blossoms that slip from the dogwood,
the memory of kisses, the thing that lifts the wind.
Tom Howard Poetry Prize, 2009