RENDING THE GARMET
The night before my mother goes into the ground
I try to eat
in my hotel near Kennedy,
but since Sept. 11th
the restaurant is temporarily closed.
In the still open souvenir shop
I find a t-shirt that fits me.
A youth M preshrunk 10-12,
An I ♥
N Y t-shirt.
I go up to my room.
On the wall above my bed is a print
of a colonial lower Manhattan
and outside my window
is bumper to bumper traffic.
My mother is a photograph,
a hoarse voice on the answering machine,
a crocheted afghan of primary colored squares
girded with black wool,
a small coleus with pink spotted leaves
outside apt. 306,
a man in the street with a hole in this throat,
a silver ring with a moonstone
on my index finger.
I pull a t-shirt over my head,
claw at the red heart,
but the fabric won’t rip.
I’m forced to use the small blade
on my nail clipper to make a slit.
Now my hands can tear the heart
that hides the one that beats.
When my mother still believed
my father was who she wished he was,
she kept a card file of recipes, and
Red Skelton was the voice of Raleigh
whose ads depicted a couple in evening dress—
a man in tails, a woman in a formfitting gown
with a flounce in the back—dancing
as if they owned the hall.
They could have been my parents.
At family affairs distant relatives
asked if they were on the stage,
and my parents flattered and tired
would shake their heads, no
as they left the floor to look for their table.
My mother would sit down demurely;
my father would sit backward,
nonchalantly on a folding chair,
from the inside of his tux jacket
take out the pack, Sir Walter Raleigh
prim on the cover, pat the bottom just enough
for two cigarettes to spring up like skyscrapers,
then pluck a match from the matchbook
of Howard’s bar mitzvah,
or Mollie and Irving’s wedding,
to light the smokes in his mouth and slowly
place one between my mother’s full lips.Willa Schneberg's third collection of poetry Storytelling In Cambodia was recently published by Calyx Books. A poem is included in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2006: Nineteenth Annual Collection. She received the 2002 Oregon Book Award In Poetry for her second collection In The Margins of The World.