My mother lived in the company of two women,
One to each side of our small frame house.
Mid-way through the mornings of hot summer days,
They would gather, encountering the pace
Of each other’s day, husbands held at a distance.
The heat would hang high in the elms,
The air heavy with the season’s poison.
At night, I would listen to my parents’ voices,
Imagining that mote-like seed miasmic polio.
With slow presentiment, mother waxes the table,
Rubs in circles, in slow movements, her figure
Loose and tired, or stands stone-faced behind
Her white gauze curtains, whispering their names,
Praying for a breeze, a motion, a relief from something
She has learned to fear, the slow frost in nerves,
Believing cruelty is in the weather, is in her
Intimacy with fear, is in their jangled lives,
Two other women and our life in between, going dry:
One with a left arm withered, a stammer, the other
A right arm and wrist in a steel brace, a stammer.
On the table, a water pitcher sweats, the vacuum
Sucks dregs of dust, aspirates along the wainscot.
When the phone rings, mother goes sour in the mouth.
Father, who is sitting in the chair, says nothing,
Then rises to steady the convulsions in her hands.