Holding open the bathrobe, she looks
for signs: a housewife’s belly of leftovers
and fasts and scars left by gut
and lung experts who gave assurances
of indefinite time before ripping out
half an intestine. She flips words over
for belly meanings: forsake and ransack
share a root; gazette comes from the seed
of magpies. She thinks of wind-mauled nests,
stolen eggs, her crow’s love for another woman’s spawn,
her lavish need to mop up the leavings of love.
Old bread dipped in salt water, re-fried.
Squatting over a white toilet, she swears
she will not be shamed. She mouths the words:
No Shame. Though everything she touched
was cheap and sure to kill ahead of time,
she swears she will not end up like
the old woman: wads of cottonwool
on the bedside table, bottom smeared
like a baby’s, her face turned to the wall
in a final hurrah of shame. In her gut, she feels
the hard swell of genetic doom.
The very room has started to smell
of the 1990s. She changes the yellow bulb
to a higher wattage and scans her iris
for flecks of grey. A maternal DNA
bleached pale as northern winter skies.
She rubs vaseline into her knuckles,
ignores their knobbly red deja vu.
Her underwear lies soaking in the pink
plastic tub, the type the old woman used.
She knows, it’s coming: her silent refuge
behind pots and pans, her squirreling away
of sweets, her habit of smoothing down
the sheets, her wobbly faith in fruiting trees,
her bitten lips, her frown. It’s all there.
It’s upon her now, there isn’t any help for it.
She knows it’s coming, that call to bed.
She will lay in the shadow thrown by a hoary
clothesline, fingers telling the gouty beads of time
and whispering slyly to a scolded child
the wisdom of occasional lipstick and a bowed head.
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