St. Petersburg, Florida1 a.m. I enter shadow, my mother folded like a bird, sleeping.A tube drips. Breath, rattle, breath, a single light burning. I touch her head.Hello, Mama. I touch her arm, the one with the needle.
She had red hair, smoked Pall Malls, did a Jewish accent, at 35had her teeth pulled in an afternoon, opened wide for temporary platesand hopped a bus to the PTA.
The nurse says the dying hear what we say. Talk to her. Whispershover over the bed. Her eyes open once as I’m patting her hair.I don’t like that, she says.
My sister with the third eye sees the room filling up. Della and Virgie just flew in,Grandfather at the foot of the bed. I see a catheter, urine the color of tea,a clear face and flesh receding from bone.
She was a swimmer, her memories were the beach: Jim, Della, Lou, Virgie,Anna, Joe, Jimmsie, Doris, Boots, the wind, the wind. All summer longa two-story house. They lit cigarettes in cupped hands. The menbought Seagrams by the case. She wanted to be a teacher.
Egrets walk the streets, wade the ponds. Not sparrows. Birds with four-foot wing spans.Birds tall as children.
Painted and glazeda teapot I lift from green paperimagine a Chinese womandipping her brush:plum blosson, leafriver and sky the same blueremember the Chinese poetwhose unbound feetgrew “hard as white poplars”and think of the women I’ve yet to meeta new couch, a new chairour legs tucked comfortablyscent of jasmine steepingI’ll pour the tea
What It Is To Be Happy
I will ride a horse into the sea,the sea lace and blue wind,the wind foaming about us.Every ship enters its harbor.
Valerie Crosswell is a native New Yorker raised in Florida and transplanted twice to Texas. For years she supported herself as a writer for the Texas Department of Agriculture in Austin. She began taking poetry seriously in 1987, studying in both the MFA creative writing program at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos and the writing classes at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, where she now lives. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies and journals. The quote from “Teapot” is from the poem “Resurrection” in Of Flesh and Spirit by Wang Ping.
–Naomi Shihab Nye