TWO POEMS by Jennifer Givhan
Then I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I who went away—from Chopin in the bones, palms heavy with dates like dark purple fingers reaching toward sand, toward fruit sickly sweet outside Mama’s bedroom window turned mine, her girlhood unloosed in mine, on the ground, rotting yellow. But skyward: a salted moon, a brittle sound, a bed of headstone with its high- pitched calling like a night animal hunting, no, a night animal hunted, in distress and calling, but the mama’s turned deaf—no, the mama’s the one yowling in the night shrub, taken, only the predator’s not the barn-owl. The predator’s prickling gooseflesh of the chest turned to full-fledged breasts and shared with boys, too early to understand how it would haunt into her parent years… into a time her children would come searching for her in bed like the icehouse in town before it closed, the ice inside too cold and melted too quickly into a time she knows will be coming when her children search in other beds and find instead a field, where the road dead ends into the basin, nothing but high grass lit by a pale streetlight… Mama would turn on the music, sometimes she played her flute and I would dance. Growing up I heard stories of Mama’s life but it never occurred to me she was alive for anyone but me, her daughter. I understand now how she needed me—no, how she made music of me and I was rescuing her from dark rooms and nights darkly lit, the slapping hands and terrible hands and the history of genes that replicate themselves in the smallest versions of ourselves: we play a piece of music listening, not for time, though time is constant, but for something deep in the belly… for Mama, who couldn’t keep us from aching, no—who gave us song as gesture for pain.
September 13th, a bright diamond-shaped light appeared in the sky
above all of central New Mexico
I’ve found the warmth Mama left in her bed
when she rose to watch the sun making pink sheets
of clouds through her window.
The balloon is risen above earth’s atmosphere
collecting celestial gamma rays
where our imperfect sight cannot reach
and then the sun is too bright;
she closes her eyes, and I can tell
she’s imagining herself in that unmanned
balloon. I want to say the instrument is already
in you, cosmic & infinitesimal… but she moves
her face behind a curtain, the moment arrives
and is gone. That light, her light,
while it was rising, lent meaning to the sky.
So we continue—the birds with their funny
pointed beaks, their ancient flapping. A child
born to rescue us. In Sunday mass
I would fix my gaze on Mary in her blues,
Mary prone at his bloody feet as I sang we will soar
but God must have known what I meant.
It’s not as if the sky is empty for me now—
even on the coldest mornings
in New Mexico, they rise
as lanterns in our land of enchantment
they rise, in jewel-tones or flag
stripes, in the oldest human-carrying
flight, with their chambers of air, they rise, burning
air into their bright billows.
My favorite resembles a sparrow.