She’s sleeping, my mother, laid out
like clean laundry waiting to be
folded. She always sleeps, or gazes
blankly at a reality tv show she hates,
yet will fill me in on if I ask. I ask.
‘You don’t have to come,’ she tells me,
‘all I do is lay here.’ But, this is the only time
I am able to watch her. When she catches
you, she scolds. Watching reminds her
too much of dying I think.
Years of working a nursing home––
‘Mrs. Lintz died today. Her daughter
crawled into bed with her one last time
and held her.’ I want to crawl into bed
with her, hold her, have her hold me.
Instead, I watch the snow out the window,
respond to my lover’s texts as if nothing
is wrong, words like fuck and fingers, mouth
and lips–– while my mother lays dying––
a chance at normal while her tumor grows like snow.
The night of her first surgery, I drove twenty songs,
across the state line to David’s farm, crossed,
the half-frozen grounds to knock on his blue door,
unannounced, shaking, starlight dancing across my pale face––
He answered, confused at the late hour,
smiled when he saw me. I kissed him
before he could ask questions–– pressed myself
against every inch I could. He pushed
the darkness from my mouth, shoved it down
so deep I thought he had murdered it.
I tried to kill the image of my mother, her sallow
skin. I pulled at his hair, tried to force out
the sounds of her cries. His hand tightened on my hip,
his nails dug into the back of my neck––I wanted him to fill
every dark corner in me with himself, cut the dark
spots from my apple flesh, if only for a moment, cut
again and again until there was nothing left of me.
Tinsel or January 5th, 2019 10:30 pm
The decorations were up in the motel lobby, the Christmas tree
adorned with seashells and starfish, coral, silver tinsel draped
over every branch. Happy New Years strung across the check-in
desk. The woman behind eyed me like she knew what I was there
for. Like she knew I came from my mother’s funeral, black dress
and blistered feet, cold skin, like she knew I was having an affair
with a man I had no feelings for, like she knew I should have
been finding myself in a bed with David. Who only wanted to save
me, but I wouldn’t let him, not a thing to be saved. Couldn’t
bear his tender heart and merciful hands. Yesterday’s fight
still ringing in my ears, words slung like a morphine drip
until I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand my own limits so I made
new with thoughts of a fresh heart to be broken,
with old desires and fragmented promises.
Needed anything other than men who called me sweetheart–
I was all teeth and no heart, a grief made wild creature.
I kept the lights off in the room, let the dim sign outside
the window illuminate the sea foam walls, sand-colored
wainscoting, paintings of ships and waves, blue quilt top
and white sheets. Seascape in the middle of Ohio. Henry
held me too gently for the brute force thumping of my grief,
I wanted teeth, bruises, anything but the black twinge of shock.
We lay in the bed, faces to ceiling, the distance between us wider
than it had been in months. “My mom died,” I said, looking
at the white popcorn ceiling. The words hung in the small space
between us like tinsel catching light and throwing the words back
into my mouth. He rolled as I did, to face my body, his wide chest
pressed to my back, his hips against the curve of me, I wanted
to move away, to escape the tenderness I neither needed
or craved from anyone but my mother.
I wanted flesh ripped open, heart carved out to make room
for something new, something less gentle and tame.
It was one am when I slid my body from under his arm, heavy
like knowledge, like broken glass. The lobby tinsel caught my
reflection and twisted it to something recognizable again,
I wanted to carve her out, take her home with me, let her live
out her days with me, though I could never give her peace.
The woman smiled to my face as I walked away from the pieces
behind me. The frozen parking lot felt good against my blistered
feet. The night air hugged my skin like it knew I belonged there,
like there are only some things that can be done in the fond embrace
of the stars, like it knew that shame feels better than numbing grief.
I feel her again, taking a breath in and then out and out and out
and out until I am forced to take my own breath in, this is me
trying to breathe again. This is my breaking a heart so I can feel
mine again. “I’m worried about you,” she said.
“I’ll be okay, Momma. Don’t worry about me. I’ll figure it
out. I’ll be okay.” Lies like tinsel, strung from every branch.
Carrie Elizabeth Penrod is a current graduate student at Mississippi University for Women. She currently lives in Indiana with her hoard of cats. Her work can be found on Prometheus Dreaming, Button Poetry's Instagram, Sad Girls Club, and corn stalks.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.