The Reproduction of Mothering

My grandmother’s hands set in the west,
her fingers like cursive trees.  Each night
she stands at the kitchen sink, fearful
she will be unable to wash her own dishes.
On her birthday I sell beans to a peddler
for a bar of soap, unscented and white,
wrapped in silk.

The first evening my grandmother scrubs
her nails and her hands rescind the alphabet.
She watches horror films and the slivers
of monsters through the venetian blinds
of her fingers. The second: her knuckles thin
and thin, letting slip bands of gold and diamond
to the sewer.  She does not mind, and this
is my first warning.

The third: she straightens to her full height
and steals all my good dresses.  The fourth,
I lose her in a mall.  She has become too fast
for me, on feet for dancing till midnight.
The skin at her elbow plumps, tight and worn
as a well loved drum, dimples where fingers
may press and hold her through a crowd.
By the time the soap is utterly used, a cracked
landscape of desire, my grandmother’s skin
is as soft as goose down.  She sits at the center
of my bed swaddled in a crochet blanket
of her own making.

Years later, when my mother’s hands bend
irrevocably, I tell my daughter how I found her:
eyes dark through chinks of yellow yarn, watching
for all the years yet to come, and I press three beans
into her palm.


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