Oh, mother, how you are sick,
and when will your children see you?
One misses you even now as she trails
the others, on a shortcut to their school
whispers something about heaven, stumbling along rails
where sorrow, shrill grief, approaches and hugs the bend.
Oh mother, a nasturtium of angels belies the plunder,
red hot bellows grip her by the waist
as she plants her 6-year-old body, so firmly, on the tracks.
Siblings call her name, tug at her sleeveless dress
but she twists and pulls away, turns her back
to that barreling wind—for one split second
when a lip of the engine brushes her aside,
lifts her up in one direction, dusty shoes another.
Oh, Mother, how you will grieve your child,
blue allure of a locomotive.
Some bullets had just missed her daughter’s head,
it seems. Down here in Miami, it was 80º
when that phone call found me sitting on edge,
couch cushions clustered beneath my legs,
arms outstretched, watching the last few
seconds of a championship game,
middle of New Year’s Day.
“Gloria’s boyfriend got gunned down,”
she cried. 2nd and 10, chants of D-E-F-E-N-S-E
dinned from the stands as a sweet scent of clove,
scattered by ceiling fans, lingered, then spread
from kitchen…to den…to living room.
I leaned forward, fingered the remote
with my right hand, lowered the volume slightly.
At last, my team took its final time out,
and my friend took refuge in a childhood memory:
Slabs of ice glassed the sidewalk where water froze,
tugging on house gutters and glistening eaves.
Cold, cylindrical blades we needed to jump up
to break off. Arm’s-length weapons with wet,
pointed ends—translucent epees we bandied
and thrust—slipping and sliding as our laughter
drifted into shrubs…only to settle,
like that dangerous swing—barehanded,
she recalled, our coats thick with snow and sun,
strong glove, clamped around icicles.
“We nearly poked each other’s eyes out,”
she laughed, “Remember?”
A long pause
as she waited for me to respond.
But the crowd stood just then in one slow roar,
its deafening yells filled the stadium
when a safety reached out to deflect the pass.
I barely catch it—glance in time—without words
once again, thinking Hail Mary? and cursing
the limits of my sports-page vocabulary, as I try
to will the various colors of pain into art—
as if poems could make a difference, could somehow
defy this silence even as those crystal swords
we knocked from eaves were melting in our palms.
Michelle Perez has had poems published in the Los Angeles Review, Kalliope, and, most recently, in the ViêtNow National Magazine, A&U Magazine, The Ilanot Review and KYSO Flash.