The summer days my mother sits out with us
are not the days we find dead birds with
the neighbor boys screaming watch out
as we toss them at each other, or the days
we play with a pocket knife one boy swiped
from his dad’s dresser, or the days we smash
fire ant mounds just to watch them flood out angry
like lava, their venom just as hot. The days
my mother sits out with us in her swimsuit,
pink blossoms patterned hot across emerald
leaves, ruffle border mapped against chest’s
edge, shoulder straps pulled down to avoid
tan lines, are the days we play house, put
the baby doll in the buggy, the days I trick
one of the boys to kiss me, the days we chalk
hopscotch on concrete in baby blues and hot pinks,
convince the boys to hold our ropes as we skip
to Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs
to kiss her fella, made a mistake On these days
my mother doesn’t notice me pause to watch her
pull her fine brown hair into a ponytail delicate,
high up on her head with a scrunchy borrowed
from one of her girls, then pause and take a sip
from her diet coke, the tender kiss of lip-
stick a crescent moon blushed pink, hung sideways
against can’s edge silver, her fingers breaking
beads of sweat that pop out and pour down
its side. She doesn’t notice me stare in awe as she
squirts a palmful of baby oil out of the clear oval
bottle with the baby pink top on her thighs, watch
as her hand glides across oil glistening sun’s heat into
body, as she rubs it silky into her tan skin. These are
the days I learn how my mother keeps beauty in.
look girls my mother points as my father
stops the car and there we sit in the middle
of the country road no traffic to block my father
pulls out his camcorder pops in a new cassette
tape hits record for thirty minutes we sit
there and watch the slow pushing of foal
folded body in sac purple coming more out less
in like the ebb and flow of ocean waves spreading
their water thin onto sand until finally crashing
sac pops out tumbles foal bewildered and
clumsy mother nudging it to stand her muzzle
pushed up under its chest firm and unshakeable
Gardening after miscarriage
Abandoned shells glister
earth. Green shock rebirthed,
cicadas gone now. Folded fingers
into palm, she crushes their remnants
and sprinkles exoskeletons over flowers.
Dirt pressed to nailbed, lullaby of pressure
meets skin’s retreat. A groove counts
for each moment left. Pressure fades.
Is there a way to resurrect the lost
blooms? Zinnia buds burn the sun
under. She can’t unremember two
unbodies she never buried.
This year, spring beats green
into the dogwood.
I don’t know what to say. I point
the deer out anyway. Silent body
half gone, present in its decay.
I count aloud its ribs, then
the puppy dogs we pass. My son
flaps his mittened hands
in approval. Only three out
on an afternoon so cold.
Our cheeks blossom red as amaryllis.
I have taken to separating green
bananas on the counter to ripen
them faster. When we get home,
I place him in his highchair, watch
him bang his tray. Banana
squishes through baby’s fist.
Outside, the cardinal’s song
afternoons through the naked
dogwood. Day bruises itself to dusk.
Sunflowers wilt on the counter, stems bent
necks in prayer. Fallen pollen circles the base,
circumference of week’s passing. James jumps on
the couch in his diaper, cookie in hand. His thighs
have abandoned their last hint of infancy. Claire scoots
along the coffee table, a pigtail loose, whining at me
to get her. Today is your birthday but you are out
getting your hair cut and oil changed. The dog waits
by the couch ready for scraps, while the cat scrounges
for crumbs in the highchair. Up to my elbows in dishes,
I wish the kids to entertain themselves. Soon we’ll miss
the intensity of these moments clustered together
like willow oak leaves in midsummer. Mourning
dove’s song pulses through their silent congregation.
Katie Richards is an MFA candidate at George Mason University. She is the recipient of the 2016 Mark Craver Poetry Award and the 2020 Mary Roberts Rinehart Poetry Award. Her poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in the South Dakota Review, DIALOGIST, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and The Inflectionist Review among other places.