Meeting the Woman Who Saved Donkeys
We meet late. She’s been so busy
being my mother. Now, there is no
husband to wipe up after, no children
to turn an ear to, no horizon sunny enough
to lure her from her three-roomed world.
Appetite opens windows long-nailed shut.
Key lime pie for breakfast, tubs of chocolate frosting
in the fridge, a whip-sharp tirade when I remove
from the grocery cart cinnamon rolls, cookies, more frosting.
She savors the junk mail, carefully reading each slick letter
begging her to help the environment, the veterans,
the long-eared donkeys. I hide her checkbook.
After breakfast, she returns to bed, lays herself
on the pendulum between sleep and dreaming,
a book in one hand, memories in the other.
Waking one day, she smiles when she sees me.
I thought you were my mother, this woman says to me,
smiling. I smile back and I don’t say, Same.
First you were the thread.
Now you are the needle, easing
your mother’s arms into her jacket
as she stands in the doctor’s office,
docile as a child.
Once you chafed in her grip,
mornings she combed out your wildness,
seasons she harvested your flaws,
years you gave her only silence.
She trimmed your hair to above your ears,
you learned how to return her call,
but it took her slow unspooling
to weaken the knots between you.
When she trails off over lunch,
staring silently at her soup, your turn
to talk up the weather, friends, the waitress.
Never huggers or proclaimers of affection,
there was between you, only this fabric.
What’s the difference between a tree
and a bush and a happy life
or a wasted one?
I take little credit for this growth except
that I when I saw the opportunity
sitting at the end of a driveway,
I grabbed it to my chest and ran,
the yucca’s spiky leaves pricking my hands,
its thick root a fist banging against my heart.
At home I gauged the sun, the way
we made a list of pros and cons, stay or go.
Planted, the yucca stood upright, alone.
When we arrived here, we were strangers
to everyone but each other.
Was this the trimming we needed?
New dirt and every few years
the pain of sharp shears?
Hilary King is a poet originally from Virginia and now living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Salamander, TAB, Door Is a Jar, and other publications. She is the author of the book of poems, The Maid’s Car and is currently studying for her MFA degree at San Jose State University.