Koreatown, Los Angeles
Gwendolyn Brooks stood stark naked.
I stared into her bespectacled eyes.
Ms. Brooks showed me how
to tend to myself by scrubbing dead skin
with a coarse washcloth, rinsing
the body’s detritus down a common drain.
My flesh was taut, loose,
and dying. Even in paradise I was dying.
At first, this surprised me. Oh, the capsized
boat of the body, Wanda Coleman sighed.
We keep sailing, even when we believe
we’re ashore. Coleman drifted to sleep
on the heated jade floor. Clasping
my spa-provided robe, I lay on my side
beside her. Do the dead
dream? I wondered to myself.
Wrong question, Coleman muttered.
I remembered sleeping beside my mother,
touching her nightgown lightly,
as if a gesture could restore the cord
that, in the beginning, tethered us. As if
I smelled her death in the satin scarf
keeping the plastic curlers in place
or in the Vaseline glossing her arms.
In childhood, I pined for my mother
though she was there.
Here, in the afterlife, I had no mind
to search for her. I was freed
from a loss that haunted me
even before it occurred.
Gwendolyn Brooks hummed a wordless
song that stripped me of all longing.
I untied the robe’s stiff belt
and walked amongst the nude women,
my skin brushed smooth and silent.
I was ordinary and motherless.
Because I was not alone,
my nakedness felt unremarkable.
I didn’t miss my mother—
I didn’t miss missing her.