My mother dyed her hair −
I was adopted that next day −
processed, approved by all,
made-to-order with Dad's red hair.
Saturday nights, I watched her
bend above a basin soaking
red tints into gray, rinsing away
the lack of 50’s perfection.
Dad displayed me to friends and family,
a boy to teach all he knew.
She rocked me through twilight
with lullabies, making me her own.
Their first child had died,
born blue and silent.
Number two was sponged away.
Determined to improvise,
My mother dyed her hair −
immersing each strand in auburn tints,
hoping to look the part. As I grew,
teenage pastimes replaced her.
My father discovered electric trains, or
took me fishing. Through attrition,
we abandoned her. The gambit fell apart,
leaving another shadow to cradle.
Her hair found truer colour. Toward the end,
strokes and strike outs paled her prayers.
I wrapped myself in the quilt she never started,
as my orphan's life began again.
Masques for Maternity
My mother’s first child was stillborn.
Limp amid the ward's cries and coos.
Among mothers in suckling’s glow.
In private rooms of pastel walls.
Balloons, small bears, Neapolitan
ice cream – celebration’s trifecta.
Sitting up, overdressed in a pink robe,
she disregards intercom incursions.
Terse intention of the night-intern –
slight improvisation in meds to lull
this hell, or a new sun's torment.
Blood in the bedpan.
down the white basin.
Hospital intercom opera disorients.
Surreal prognosis serenades an unfamiliar tune.
In the hall, a brash food service cart crashes past
the elevator door. Rattles the aria’s delight.
Thumping wheel measures tile, then carpet. Then
tile. Then clatter. Where's the discharge nurse?
Release aftershock as a dove a-flight.
Defeated answers when silence swells –
divination dispels like a snowflake melts
on the tongue. No reconciliation for a heart.
Pre-dawn coffee now cold. Wind outside
in moonglow. The life-machines' crescendo.
Awkward final act at a whole note rest,
like quiet softens without ovation.
Our single kiss. Your salt etches my lips,
taste buds left thirsting – bitterness dries
any bloom. A sprout becomes expanse of shed petals.
Weariness grafts us like initials crudely carved
into bark: green symbols surrounded by dark crust.
Our dislodged embrace an axiom. Our moment a prop
for a dusty bookshelf cluttered with wishes
and fresh toys. Notebook with ribboned pages –
weary scribbles, opaque rage – cursive scolding
for flat-lined love. Morgued. No revival
except by my own foul breath. Our loose hug
a simple pose beneath delivery room florescent glare.
Raincloud sky proffers drizzle over this ache
as I spin robust red wine in the rosewood rack.
"Tint" first appeared in Sam's book, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53).
Sam Barbee has a new poetry collection, Apertures of Voluptuous Force (2022, Redhawk Publishing). He has three previous collections, including That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016. Also, Uncommon Book of Prayer (2021, Main Street Rag) which chronicles family travels in England. His poems appeared recently in Salvation South, Dead Mule School, Asheville Poetry Review, and Adelaide Literary Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals American Diversity Report, Verse Virtual, The Voices Project, and Grand Little Things. He is a two-time Pushcart nominee.
The Ekphrastic Review
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