At 93, my mother was eggshell and frost, folded linen,
the faded smell of lavender sachet. Her eyes were
muddy pools where nothing swam. When I was small,
her lips flamed when she smiled, scarlet as a struck
match, like the roses in the yard, so tempting
to the iridescent beetles unraveling the petals
of the tightest buds. I used to go into her purse
and turn the golden tube to make the red stub rise,
sniff it, sweet-smelling as the candy lipstick
at the corner store. The color made my mother
seem exotic, a parrot perching in the snowy oak.
A bright scarf tied around her throat, she didn’t
look or sound like other people’s mothers.
They never wore white gloves to shop downtown,
or spoke of traveling to Paris with their families
on a ship, or standing on the top of Table Mountain
studying the spot where two seas meet, one calm
and glassy green, the other angry grey. Even the sour
praises of my father’s family couldn’t dull her flame,
not yet. She was full of light. Her family regularly
arrived like migratory birds, bright-colored, chattering.
Drawn by her songs and stories of her uncle
Isaac Rosenberg, artist and poet, who died
when she was two in World War One, I dreamed,
aching to explore the world within the covers
of his books and far beyond. She said I could
escape the small dark world we were immured in.
And yet, I wondered at the size of her small
life, all the care spent covering the chipped gray
kitchenette with a bright cloth and matching
napkins, the way that she presided at the empty table.
Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at http://www.RobbiNester.net