(originally published in The Threepenny Review, anthologized online at Poetry Daily)
Each woman blooms in seasons of her own,
My mother said, hands floury, kneading dough.
I clattered pans, in silence played alone
On the linoleum, an age ago –
Still childish, weedy, sprouting ripe and green.
Our kitchen smelled of summer heat and yeast,
And she was beautiful, the sun’s bright ring
Upon her hair, gold braid a sheaf of wheat.
She baked a dozen loaves for me, then more,
Cakes, muffins, scones – till I refused to eat
And thinned as she grew plump and opened stores,
Became a chain, conglomerated; chief
Executive, hailed by Time Magazine,
While Fortune’s men crowned her that season’s queen.
While Fortune’s men crowned her that season’s queen,
I turned sixteen. Dark hair, dark-eyed, white-thighed,
I did not look like her and could not see
My own pale shade inside her spring green eyes.
My birthday present was her credit card,
She said to choose whatever I would like.
There was no cake: that fall we counted carbs.
My father’s florist sent me paper-whites,
Forced out of season, hothouse vanity.
I didn’t miss her gift. I knelt to peer
Into my silent mirror. I didn’t need
Her bread. I lit my secret candle, seared
It to my hand. I didn’t want her kiss.
I only needed flame, to make a wish.
I only needed flame, to make a wish –
For what? At Saks I scarcely could decide:
Gold chains, silk scarves, or sweet black licorice whips.
The Lancome mirror coldly told what my
Reflection lacked. A salesclerk analyzed
Me, painted me with April pinks, and sprayed
My wrists with Joy. But Hades, searching ties,
Beneath the fume and wax saw my real shade.
He said, Try red. Or dove-smoke gray and wine.
He brushed my lids with pearl. In mirrored love
And agony his cryptic gaze held mine,
Outlined in kohl. Pale flesh, red lips, breasts flushed,
Two embers waiting one hot breath, we glowed.
It’s true he stole me. But I chose to go.
It’s true he stole me. But I chose to go,
Unable then to see how Mother missed
Me. Or, perhaps I didn’t care, if crows’
Feet scratched around her eyes, when I’d been kissed
By fire, enrapt and snug in earthen sheets.
He breathed into my mouth, his touch a knife
That quickly slit, delivered blood and seed,
Exquisite pain, my flesh come last to life –
I wept, lay down to sleep, eternally
Transformed. He woke me; we drank Armagnac,
Watched vampire flicks he ripped off pay TV;
He fed me roast lamb, and Black Forest cake.
He gave me rubies, his skeleton key —
With rosebuds dyed ash, he crowned me his queen.
With rosebuds dyed ash, he crowned me his queen
In an ecstatic rave, crashed by a crone
From 20/20. She aired stills of me,
Of Mother choking on thrust microphones,
And fleeing the press hounds, cloaked as a maid,
To Zeus – who raged at all the ills he bore:
The Star blazed tales of ravishing young aides,
The pleas he’d been a swan shocked Senators,
His stoic unsung wife who’d jetted off
To Ithaca. Dyspeptic, he advised,
While lighting his cigar, she view my loss
A law of nature: innocence must die.
She took that lit cigar into her hand.
She only needed flame, to make demand.
She only needed flame, to make demand
That I return. She burned her stores, then closed
The bakeries. Grain rot across the land
As tractors idled, S&Ls foreclosed,
The markets fired clerks, stocks flat-lined. Zeus
Appealed for reason. Had she lost her mind?
What kind of woman acted with such brute
Abandon, while cold hungry children died?
She would not yield. Till his offerings had burnt
To ash, his tribute wine bled out, and Zeus
Sent Hades streams of pale night-blooming girls
Like me. I swallowed envy’s crow, grief’s fruit,
Took off my rosebud crown, boxed up my gems.
She touched my face, to see me home again.
She touched my face, to see me home again,
While shadows lengthened under me with time.
She restocked stores, paid Zeus a dividend,
And ceded options I can exercise
Each spring. We know I’ll never take her chair —
In fall I’m damned to buy fresh lipstick, flick
An ashen rose across my cheek, despair
A taste for salt I can’t outgrow. I wish
I could see snow on Mother’s hair; she grieves
That I can’t bear a child. At equinox
Our fate embraces us; I ate his seed;
She starved the world; a crown exacts its cost.
Half live, half dead, we mount our separate thrones.
Each woman blooms in seasons of her own.