Our house of Quiet Restraint
had so few gifts in it. My mother
lived quiet as a ring in a velvet box.
I wrote a poem about my father
turning into a planet, of being
that planet's anxious satellite,
rising from its orbit
into the atmosphere.
In the poems, I burned down
our modest house.
I burned down houses
all over town.
No one knew me, I thought.
But my mother did.
She scribbled me a picture
where my mouth should have been.
She explained longing
and offered me salves, furs,
cigarettes wrapped in linden leaves.
Every morning a lark
came to the front window
that framed her.
Arson is Invention, sang the lark
from her perch,
pointing to where her silvery heart smoldered.
I grew my mouth,
kissing that window,
roiling waters inside,
my hunger stretching
its feline limbs.
I wondered what her gifts were.
Wondered if the lark was my mother or
if my mother, my mother? Then one morning
the lark disappeared.
From my window I watched
for the desperate speck.
Searched the bushes. Searched the table,
her perch in the house's
veiled attic. The halo of smoke
in the sky was dotted with birds.
But they weren't the lark.
I watched the sky, pushed out of the window
to look, my long hair twisted in the wires
that connected our house
to the distance. A fire chattered.
I looked into the lacy face of it.
I didn't know where it came from.
I wanted it.
At first it seemed to me
that it was the truth
Then, not at all.
I slept while my mother
measured my hunger.
She left cottage cheese in cardboard boxes.
She left a note on the door:
Gone. Don't Wait Up.
She found the photo
I took of the lark.
I adorned it with pearls. In it the lark sings
a song I tried to learn
from the cleft of her mouth.
I once pressed the photo to my face
like a mask, but nothing.
This my mother took.
Sweet. Sweet Girl. Sweet Girl of Mine.
She knew what I wanted all along.
My pencil grows sharper.
The ink runs full.
The cold wind stays at my back.
My father becomes a ghost of industry.
My mother wraps herself in cloaks
at night. Every night, she looks in the trees.
Su-weet, she calls out, searching for the source of smoke.
Sweet Girl. She becomes a stranger with sticks in her hair.
Lark, come home. Lark, find my mother. Now she's the one
who needs you. When my mother kisses me,
she tastes like soot.