Over the Transom
Mom and I had a route mapped to the U.P.
and Northern Wisconsin but drove no further
than Door County, a pseudonym of Grace.
Champagne was her ballast.
I napped and poked about the pool, spying
girlhood dreams like a one-track navigator.
She’d jerk awake on the king-sized bed, soaked
to her eyeballs in alcohol—struggling to stammer
You have no clue, honey. A bucket.
I’d heave to and mark my place in an Atwood
poem, uncinch the scarf, a caterpillar
clutched about her neck, covering the scars
surgeons left in lieu of glands.
Sometimes, I’d read aloud to her, plunging
stanza after stanza for fear if I stopped
I’d end her life. Mom is on the balcony, watching
the contrail solidify, smoking.
Dreams tethered to breath, to consciousness.
I don’t document her days with pen or lens after.
Can you picture the sky striped with artificial clouds?
Old hat, blue & white late-day late September,
searching the trees for a secret closet.
Twenty toes dipping in our chlorinated sea
and before my feet could touch bottom,
Mom got swamp-nosed and honked like a swan
in a handful of glitter, swimming agape,
flirting between the legs of strangers.
Opa peered through parochial windows to capture her.
We were in the deep end, she, still a catch
even with a slit throat, headlong and still giving head—
slit white & beautiful like all the boys used to say.
Like the potted orchids she kept beside her
hospital bed, a nod to all her richly colored blossoms.
Sensitive and hard to care for—a life of brevity & beauty,
more idea than flower.
I put up boundaries & she unfurled them, like her
black bikini—raised in surrender or offering
before flinging it at me, her story naked in a nutshell
over the transom. Lost in an orbit of bubbles, such desire
universal. Like Twilight, like Bella and the wish
to be undead before fucking. For me,
the opposite. One-piece underneath the black
pencil skirt I insist on even poolside.
Bodies still damp at dusk, we leave
two white orchids on Opa’s grave. Then shame
is the prize, cadaverous,
Goodbye, Opa. Fuck you.
I sputter out. How easy
it unzips from my mouth, like this skirt worn
for him, its zipperteeth torn apart
with Mom’s help in the back of a Buick.
—Amylia Grace, Milwaukee, WI