In the evenings, we watched Jeopardy.
Wore surgical masks once she got sick.
Before that my mother sent me to the store
for cigarettes all the time. Pack of Salem Lights.
Take somebody with you. I didn’t
listen. Just wanted to get back to the book
on my lap. Didn’t want to have to share
the change so I could get some sour cream & onion
potato chips, pink Now & Laters. A Huggie (always red).
We microwaved fluid in clear bags
for her “exchanges.” That’s what the word meant
when my mother connected the tube
from her stomach to a piss-colored sack
of peritoneal fluid. Normal dialysis was too much.
Before all that she smoked. We drove out
late to liquor stores for boxed wine. A six-pack.
Then she got on the phone with her friends & laughed
the laughs she needed to help her get by, get up
the next day & mother us. At night she did what
she wanted. Cursed so sublime I learned
to hear it as poetry (unless I was the beloved
of her ode). Before she got sick, around the age
I am now, she wore her hair short, dyed a color
I can only describe as “Fuck Off” red. She’d smoke
wearing her pearls. Ask me about school & What Did I Want
To Be because it would likely cost her a lot of money.
Sometimes she’d say, Rachel I need you to go to the store. And I’d
put down my book or the knife on the cutting board.
I’d go up to Concord Deli thinking about whether
I could be a writer some day. If I would ever learn to
smoke, curse & two-step against a hot stove
while my children grew up under my own roof.
What would it cost me, or my family, to make up stories?
How much would I have to save or spend to pay my own way.
When he said, Hey Beautiful, I was thinking
about how to get more dessert at dinner than my brother,
who liked sweets. How to get out of doing the dishes.
Besides, I didn’t answer because I wasn’t beautiful.
But his homeboy braked, barking while he jumped from the car.
His shadow cut across mine on the sidewalk. Bitch, he said
& flicked his cigarette down where we were both
dark as asphalt. The memory shivered in the skillet
the way the onions did when I came back
into the kitchen with my mother’s cigarettes.
Put the book away & picked up the knife.