Mother’s Day by Jay Sizemore

She made pillows from her father’s shirts,

and cried at the auction when they sold

his last twist of chewing tobacco,

in a ziplock bag with the pocket knife,

sharpened until the blade

was nothing but a curved sliver of steel.


She sharpened her lungs on the sandpaper

of cigarette smoke, eighteen years of

crack a window please, of smelling

like a dive bar, of love used as a lathe

on her children’s bones, filtered

through black coffee kisses.


Sixteen and pregnant, her mother read the Bible

by lamplight. She prayed

to be just like her. She hid her cigarettes

in the hollow of a tree. She said yes

to an avalanche of mistakes,

a revolving door of single motherhood.


Where the elephant walks

on tall spindly legs,

and tigers leap loud and violent

from the mouths of fish,

she sunbathes in the nude.


My mother worked hard at perfecting

my guilty conscience.

I’ve seen her shoot the moon⸺

she serves me Shirley Temples

in the bistro of my memory

where she waitresses to pay rent

with sticky dollar bills.


She turns her body into a chest of drawers,

sets fire to the silhouette

of a giraffe,

storing pumpkin seeds and bottle caps

that germinate into wasted lives

no one will regret in their hospital beds,

watching the saline drip,

cancer that morning coughing fit

that never stops

grinding the will into salt.


Is this all genetic?

Is the future a series of switches

flipped on and off

and catching like zippered teeth

into a winding road of predestination?

If so, I hope I don’t cry

when they’re auctioning off

her final carton of Marlboro Lights.

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