I open her Rolodex to my card: (misspelled names of friends, of men I dropped,
of the date I came west: June 5, 2002).
Every sixteen weeks, I flew east, paused my life to keep
vigil over her shrinking body.
She offered absolution: As long as you can cry / you know you are able to love.
Pouting like the child denied rainbow ice cream on a hot day in Dunedin,
I stroked the blanket on the couch where she spent her nights and days alone.
My last visit, we sorted old photos, began the accounting of her life:
I passed the exam for Foreign Service. / To travel the world alone,
I was a bit nervous. / But I then met your father who followed me / like a puppy in the bottom of some empty sea.
My mother never spoke in rhyme. Her voice is lost so I give her mine.
In California, I transcribed our suffering,
I meditated under LA smog, I danced night into morning.
I feared midnight calls and daylight messages, laden with worry I did not want.
In Florida, she scratched messages to herself—
white tabbed cards, scraps of paper preserved in plastic protector sheets
tucked in drawers by her bed, by her recliner, by her kitchen sink—
her homemade wailing wall.
These papers fill my drawers with her chants. Now something like this:
How the Marlboro Man Stole My Heart
1962 Scholfield Barracks, Hawaii
Sunglasses mask bloodshot eyes camera slung over
my father's shoulder black hair slicked back in a wave white cigarette
poised in tan lips slid into a young soldier's grin
1968 Wedding, Saddlebrook Creek, NJ
Mom leans forward Dad lounges
whiskey in his left hand cigarette in the right
waits for her to strike the match
1969 Apartment, Garfield, NJ
Newly hung kitchen curtains white and sheer
as her new-wife apron She sits on his lap
all laughter and smoke all yellowed by time
1977 Kitchen, Chesterfield, NJ
Paintbrush in mother’s hand adds final flourishes to the larger-than-
life box: Chesterfields not Dad's Marlboros My sister's limbs
protrude from the costume cigarettes waiting to be plucked
1979 Basement, Chesterfield, NJ
Upstairs Mom listens to Paul Anka Dad smokes and etches jewelry
on a vertical mill behind the drywall Kris and I choreograph
Copacabana sequins on leotards feathers in hair cigarette girls
1982 A Hospital, A Funeral Home, Trenton, NJ
Proof for the family in Hungary black and white of arms
folded over body on bed of satin: Memory cuts to an old
man in an armchair speaking with my father's voice
Sometime in the 1960s, Before Everyplace Else
In the midst of a party a woman laughs with wine
a man sucks on a cigarette his eyes his hand
on her knee on her suggest what is to come.
Lisa Cheby has an MFA from Antioch University and a forthcoming chapbook, Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Dancing Girl Press. She is a high school librarian at Verdugo Hills High School where she teaches creative writing and hosts books clubs and writing groups for students. Lisa is the poetry editor for Annotation Nation. Her poems and reviews have appeared in various journals including The Rumpus, Eclipse, The Mom Egg, The Citron Review, Askew, and Tidal Basin Review and in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Book and The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss. For more information visit her website: http://lisacheby.wordpress.com/