When red clay’s between my toes,
and the sun’s setting over my head,
the ghost of my mother blows in,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze.
Her teeth, the keys of a piano.
I play her grinning ivory notes
with cadenced fumbling fingers,
splattered with paint, textured with scars.
A song rises up from the belly of my past
and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories.
My mama’s dress bears the stains of her life:
blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk;
She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow;
Its brilliance nearly blinds me.
My fingers tire,
as though I’ve played this song for years.
And the tune swells red,
dying around the edges of a setting sun.
A magnolia breeze blows in strong,
a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home.
She will not say goodbye.
For there is no truth in spoken farewells.
I am pregnant with a poem,
my life lost in its stanzas.
My mama steps out of her dress
and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet.
She stands alone: bathed, blooming,
burdened with nothing of this world.
Her body is naked and beautiful,
her wings gray and scorched,
her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine.
I watch her departure, her flapping wings:
She doesn’t look back, not even once,
not even to whisper my name: Brenda.
I lick the teeth of my piano mouth.
With a painter’s hands,
with a writer’s hands
with rusty wrinkled hands,
with hands soaked in the joys,
the sorrows, the spills
of my mother’s life,
I pick up eighty-one years of stains
And pull her dress over my head.
Her stains look good on me.