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 fora 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, 
trapped sables. 

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