She could have done it any day, but
it is tonight she chooses to tell us.
The night the window panes shudder
with the growling bass of thunder,
mechanical hum of the house subsiding—
electricity gone, lightning piercing
the dark every thirty seconds. I’d known
the news was coming—heard the hushed
phone calls, the clatter of dishes over
whispered fights. I’d seen my father’s
weighted steps to their bedroom
and my mother’s lips tightening above
the bread she sliced and the broth she salted.
I’d stand behind doors, ear at the crack,
listening for more, but hoping it wouldn’t
come, hoping that if I pretended nothing
was different, nothing would change.
But tonight is just us—my mother, my sister
and I. We search in the dark for candles—
Balsam Yankee jars, stubs of wax with crumbling
wicks, Diamond matchbox in the spice
cupboard. We gather quilts and pillows
to layer onto my mother’s bed. She draws
us close on either side of her, folding us
into her sides, tucked beneath the bends
of her elbows. Yellow glows on our cheeks
from the shifting flame on the nightstand.
We are safe from the low rumbling
that swells into roaring and flashing outside,
the rain drumming on the roof. Our bodies
grow heavy against her as she puts
a hand on each of our foreheads, smoothes
back hair and sleep, then leaves her warm
palms to rest on the tops of our heads, as if
to weigh her thoughts. Girls, she says,
Can you look at me? Slow, we turn our chins
toward her face. I know what’s coming, want it
to stop—I feel the warmth of the flame leave
my cheeks and leave a chill in my stomach.
Your father and I are getting divorced, she says.
She said it, and because there’s no taking it back,
we shrink away from our mother like flimsy
paper held to the candle on the nightstand.
My sister and I lie like starfish in the intersection,
where Orchid Road meets County 189 meets
our driveway, spread across gravel rocks that poke
sharp corners into jeans, shoulders, backs of heads.
Home from school for groceries, laundry, a bonfire
tomorrow with old friends, we stare into the July
night—buzzing with the drone of crickets-bullfrogs-
cicadas, the whistling rustle of swaying cornstalks.
The deep, black sky pockets us, shields us
from traffic, worries, even from time. It stretches
on forever, past the sketch of the Big Dipper, the three
specks that line Orion’s belt, the creamy haze
of the Milky Way—and I wonder where I belong.
Only back for a little, not long enough to do the things
we did before we grew up and got busy: pull
on puddle boots and wade thigh-deep in ditchwater,
climb evergreens so high our hair mats
with sticky-sweet sap, stack fallen branches
into forts. I look down the raised strip of grass
that winds along the center of the driveway, untouched
by tires. Thick trees fold around the farmhouse,
its shingled roof, weathered, white siding, dirty
awnings curling over windows—the place I forget
to call home when I’m away. I press my back
into raised bumps and deep grooves, close my eyes,
smell the fresh air, ripening corn, damp soil
and summer grass. This belongs to me.
I watch her from the shade of a portico,
stone column at my back, three strides
over sun-warmed bricks to reach her—this
large-breasted, plain girl who rests on a doorstep.
Auburn hair tangles over her shoulders, head sags
like the soiled lace across her chest. A pause
before she moves again, curved over a basket
of linens she pulled from the line strung
in the narrow space between houses—housekeeper
by day, prostitute by night. I know how men
approach her with wine-soured breath, lean down,
their faces shining with grease. And lust. They slip
coins under folded hands on her lap; her cue
to rise, to lead them through the door behind her.
No need for seduction in daylight—thin lips
slack, mouth turned down, though skin is still
velvet to a rough hand. I don’t seek to penetrate
her body, but to capture it—the delicate splay
of fingers across her lap, the fragile creases
under her chin, her nostril puckering the soft
rose of her cheek. And the shadow that brings
her brows close together over downcast eyes.
I already know what my brush will do: ring
her arched wrists with silver bracelets, attach
a pearl to the lobe of her ear, stroke
a tear down the length of her nose.
I breach those three strides across the street;
her white face turns toward me—the deep hollows
of her eyes don’t reflect the sunlight. I take
her hand, brush my lips against it, gentle
like paint on canvas. Il tuo nome? I ask, releasing
her hand. Anna, she says, each syllable soft, slow.
Anna, I say. La mia Magdalena.