Blue Star Mother

Compare my sins to this, for instance,
my mother refusing to have her picture taken,
always raising up her hands the moment that
the shutter clicks, so that looking back
on the photographic
evidence of my life
one could be easily convinced
I was raised by a woman
whose face was the palm of a hand.

This is not the case. I know that
in the seventies she wore
large glasses, apparently sat often enough
on cheap imitation teak couches
to be photographed on them more than once, sometimes
had her hair done up
in whatever fashion
wives of factory workers
wore in Richmond
and was beautiful.

But after hanging her blue star up she covered it
with curtains. She stopped
going to the hairdresser
and took up gardening instead.
Which is to say, that when she woke up
in the middle of the night
she’d stand in the yard in her nightgown
staring at a clump of dead azaleas
running down beside the house.
Later, she stopped sleeping.
Later still, her hair went grey

I had a picture of her
in my helmet, shuffled in
with other pictures.
I think it was in between
some cut out from
a Maxim magazine and
a Polaroid of my girlfriend’s tits
with a note on it that said,
Sorry, last one, be safe, XOXO.

My mother told me
about a dream she had
before the sleeping stopped. I died
and woke her at her bedside
to tell her I was dead,
though I would not have
had to tell her because
I’d already bled on her favorite floral rug
and half my jaw was missing.
I don’t know what to make of that.

I like to think she caught
some other mother’s dream,
because she could take
how hard the waiting was,
and had all that practice
getting up her hands.

From Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. Reproduced with kind permission from Hodder & Stoughton.