The Names of the Dead
With every death, my mother shrinks.
Soon she will live in the palm of my hand.
She calls me with cold-cut eyes, her mind a cellar
where the white pipes strain with water.
Scott is dead now, she whispers into the receiver.
He was your age. Overdose. Only twenty four.
I try to pull his picture from the watery veil
of memory, but his face shies away. Later
she will knead his name into her prayers,
yeast and flour and then a rising amen.
Imagine the faith of one who prays for ghosts.
My mother hates the dark, the devil, and tight spaces.
Like the catch of a locket her heart clicks—
like the cluck and stutter of a tongue.
She lines her white pills into rosary beads
and never flies. When I am fifteen,
the cold cases in the grocery store burst and fizzle,
darkness whooshing in as the lights die.
Her breath bubbles hoarse from her throat—
I lace our identical fingers, fish her out
into the November air while she mutters psalms.
I will always be taller than my mother.
She is a size six shoe, with small orchid-palms.
My mother loves me because I sing like my father.
She hates when my voice grows thick like his, with steel.
Sometimes she cradles my face in her fingers
to watch him burning at the back of my gaze.
When I stare back,
I see her bury the names of the dead
behind her eyes.