Painbirds X by Ashley Warren

Painting by Seon-Jeong Kim

Painbirds X

On a good day,
my mother sits like a
chain-driven Grandmother
The air is quiet as she
smiles and nods like someone
else’s grandmother who smiles
and nods too much and at nothing.
She files away expired coupons,
debt collector’s threats,
grandbaby photos.
Those days, her fingers
may be well enough
to knit something small
or write some snaggletooth letters to
family about everything
that is not happening
or even well enough to play
a simple piano tune if she knew one.
On her face, I see
a woman struggling
with the term cadence
while the clock ticks softly
and off beat.
But on most days,
the sickness has organized its
own internal orchestra
while the meds work hard
to keep her bound.
She sits tight and tamed
as if unable to flinch
from a punch.

And I get what the doctors are trying
to do—

He says, “Doesn’t all
that head bobbing bother you?”
“Well I don’t notice it,” she says
between clenched teeth.
“Let me give you something for that, Donna.”
And that army will too
build up a box around
her rambunctious, ticking head.
He doesn’t warn her that the noise—
while disguised and hushed,
while tightened and tamed,
is growing like a thoughtful concerto.
Inside, she’s knocking
at the wood meekly.
Inside her clenched fists
is a tiny ax
and it’s chipping away at
each quiet room, at every
pitying encounter, at the
thick dank tunnel
echoing every memory and sorrow
she is now too tired
to remind us of with her mouth.
Poco a poco, the music is swelling.
Her swing, strengthening.
The little soldiers, forfeiting.
And on that penetrating day,
when shards of wood fly,
my mother will become both the broken
orchestra and its flailing

Ashley Warren

Ashley Warren is a Minnesota native and currently lives in Long Beach, CA. Her poems have appeared in several print and online publications including Convergence Magazine, Hiram Poetry Review, Santa Clara Review, Old Red Kimono, Red River Review, Roanoke Review and Sandy River Review.