When they knew the ladies of the church
were sending waves of food,
my mother’s neighbors fished for other needs
as I hung there, caught like a trout
on her corded phone,
until they asked, “What about paper goods?”
and I leapt at the easy bait, more than once.
I didn’t mind that on the funeral day a growing
flock of perpetual-plastic bags perched everywhere
—on the fridge, the counters, the washer—some
light as angel down, all with contents pure.
That night I dreamed of my mother–
she who found humor in the absurd,
delight in irony,
she who had to be hushed at wakes–
ascending in laughter on a bright path,
thousands of Styrofoam plates
cobbled into the white and narrow,
stretching upward into clouds,
cups curbing both sides, rim-to-rim,
each with a paper napkin
and a plastic fork
tucked neatly inside.
Windows etched with branches
and sparrows at the feeder,
the sun too heavy to rise much
above the rattling tops of trees.
Late-fall days. The chill deepens.
Yet a gray bird on a limb
(nearly dissolved into drab sky)
lifts into flight and transforms,
a flash of white underwings
charging the air.
And I think of my father at breakfast
that day, his quiet routine shifting
to make room for me, for my bustle,
my insistence on vitamins and hope,
my smile that reminded him of Mother.
When I joined him, he was staring
out the window, holding his coffee
with both hands, palsied now, once able
to clear forests and slice trees into planks.
Something had caught his attention.
A man who strung words slowly on threads
of deliberation, he hadn’t talked much lately.
“That bird…” he said.
“What bird, Dad?”
He set down his cup and motioned
toward the window. “There was a gray bird
on the wire there, just a plain gray bird,
but then when he lifted off to fly—
all that white under his wings…you know...”
For weeks after his death, before insight
sparked this memory to warm me now
more than fire or flannel or even
the down of feathers, gray and white,
I wished I had said,
“And that’s why I write poetry, Dad.”
instead of just nodding,
naming the bird, smiling over my cup.
The house on the hill in Alabama
sits vacant beneath blue sky.
After the faces are lifted from its walls,
the shelves and cabinets cleared of their history,
the closets boxed up for the church,
cobwebs and memories siphoned from corners;
after we take for our own the photos and hats,
watches and thimbles, things that remind us;
after my mother’s fabric and spools and plans
have flowed into younger hands; after the tub
of my childhood is scoured of stains and promise,
the dining room table, dependable center,
carted away from its prints on the rug,
and beds in pieces maneuvered through doors;
after the plants and the cat go on living with others
and my father’s pecans mound deep in weeds;
after the heat is turned off and the curtains drawn;
after the hollow shutting of doors, and locking,
and driving away, what’s left struggles in me
to mean more than a sixty-year-old house, empty
and still, facing the late sun across cotton fields,
bolls full, whiter than I can remember.
Clela Reed lives with her husband and a herd of hungry deer in a hardwood forest near Athens, Georgia. Her poetry has been published recently in Caesura Literary Magazine, Colere Journal, The Kennesaw Review, anderbo.com Online Journal, and Storysouth Journal. She has an MA in English, which she taught for many years. In the past two years, she has participated in the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Summer Literary Seminars (St. Petersburg, Russia).