By Elizabeth Gray

As if in a dream, I can almost hear
My mother say, churn the butter,
Wash the plates,
Take the platter to the cold room.
Behind the pantry door, I press it
To my forehead, feel cold drops of moisture,
And forget my name.
Swallow it, through this lifetime.
Try it on again in the next.
My mother couldn't protest, because
She already had me, and someone had to raise me.
Will I tell my daughter the same thing?
Not too long ago I stood here in the pantry,
Dark smoke in my nostrils,
Voices in the next room,
Stuffing the extra plums in my mouth
With a taste like cool metal, the dust
Of blue moonlight,
When I heard my mother sob.
Something in her cry told me
Something I had lost,
Without telling me what it was.

Sometimes in the silence, I sang.
Sometimes took a knife and cut flowers
In the clearing behind the well, gathered them
Like they were my old rag dolls
In my apron.
Brought them in to my mother,
Who scrubbed down the wooden table,
Picked through them carefully,
Herbs in one pile, discarded weeds.
Always before, she had dried flowers, leaves, and stems,
Stocked the cupboards with medicinal herbs.
This time a shadow fell
like a cock crowing for the third time,
and two priests rode by the door.
My mother threw the plants in the smoking hearth,
Chopped at them with a hoe.
To heal is more dangerous
than sickness, she said.

Butter packed in the crock,
Dishes on the shelf,
The dirty basin water flung out the door,
Damping the dust that tries to rise.
Last night was the dark moon,
And I heard my mother say
Even the moon can't bear it full time.
Sometimes her light gives out, too.
I had a dream she pulled me
To the door by my collar,
And pointed to the yard. There is the moonlight,
A charnel reek, a shadow clumped
Like scar tissue, last year's chaff
Gone scum in the pond.
What burned here, mother, and why
Do you make me look? The moon
Is as white as a woman's bones.


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