My Mother's Scarf
Silky folds slip over my fingertips:
a kaleidoscope of brilliance trimmed in faded black
rippled through with the yellowed smell of cigarettes,
damp ashes, out of date calendars, bacon grease.
A present? A museum shop purchase made
when she went to see the Fauves,
their audacious colors splashing her imagination,
spattering ambitions of plying thick orange
and blue smears with her own hand?
When I was nine she set up an easel
down in the dim basement, spread out
paint tubes like an underground rainbow
and painted for three years.
I have a photo of her pushing my baby pram
through Central Park, the smart young mother,
a mass of color tying back her still golden brown hair,
a jaunty knot below her left ear. She appears proud
of her motherhood, proud to be wearing
the silky reproduction of Cezanne as if it were nothing.
It was the only note of color in the wood paneled study
where the young profs, dark suited and serious,
gathered to defend their favorite philosophers.
She visited my father there amid the musty histories
heaped along window sills, the liberal portions
of amber liquor poured round,
the room heady with ideas and ambition.
I am sure it was this scarf she wore
draped about her neck at my sister's baptism.
She was most beautiful to me then,
her smooth chignon, her dress' rich green rustle,
full skirted with a shiny patent belt wide at her waist,
her edges softened by the sweetness of Chanel No. 5.
She played bridge then and had ladies in to luncheon.
Later when I was eight she sewed me three dresses
one each in forest green, sky blue, and crimson red
with ample sashes and white collars. Two summers following
she filled the kitchen with sugary bubble of apricot butter
pouring patterned glass containers to their brims
with pale orange deliciousness.
I won honorable mention at a local contest--
the sixth grade all wrote letters about what made our mothers
special. At a loss at what to write, I dutifully described
the model mother: spotless housekeeper,
tireless cook, tender nurse, patient nurturer.
Unease settled over me whenever I saw that beige pillow,
her Best Mom prize, plumped on the sofa's place of honor.
She put away her scarf, but the pillow, finally in tatters,
On the Ferry from Delos
Kneading knobby limbs,
tender with growth, intent
she rubs sunscreen along his arms,
along sturdy legs in long steady strokes,
rhythmic as oarsmen drawing
across the ageless Aegean blue.
Plies protecting salve with
push, pull and again. Stretching down to ankle,
slips off red rubber sandals, massages
unguent into each arch and toe.
Up and over the round of a shoulder
builds up shield against the sun.
He is still, patient.
Gazes out across the rippling sapphire
out to massing rocks and weathered stone,
low and exposed,
the place where mothers gave birth
and the frail were left to die alone.
He explores by day the wilderness
of complex calculations, constructs
engineering stratagems, analyzes options.
Evenings, he pursues ancient enemies
across computer screens or observes
from sidelines the regulated combat
on football fields, in basketball arenas,
baseball stadiums. He wields his bicycle
to conquer distance, speed, himself.
She wanders through a maze
of words, searching for fragments
to solve a crossword,
to discover the exact fit for the next syllable
in a metric line, to color an image
with the perfect brushstroke.
Her mind releases when she crosses the threshold
to garden’s green, the richness
of westerly breezes, the chirps of chickadees
and songs of bees.
There are nights when her arm drapes
across his chest, forehead rests against jaw,
chin against shoulder, skin against skin.
As warmth rises between them, it melts
the day-lit border; no boundary
between one and another.
His breaths are hers,
her pulse his.
Jamie Elliott Keith lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and
continues to be astounded by the power of words. Her works have
been published in such publications as Every Day Poets, drown in
my own fears and Thick with Conviction.