Through the chorus of beeps and bangs
my body sang – every bit of skin
and flesh resisting the restraint –
the draw of the machine
imaging my insides
like Superman I lay, face down
in a blue hospital gown
instead of cape, dozing,
and dreamt of a girl
flashing engagement rings.
Jewelry-free I felt a quiver
in my muscles mimicking
her proud wave, her tender
hand. And then another scene:
on the monkey bars,
a child swings,
followed by an actual monkey,
leathery palm open —
a reach, a desire to grasp
coursed through me
and I loosened my grip
on the dream, breathed,
muffled a scream.
The tobacco notes on my mind’s tongue
cling yellow, staining even the holes
in its weave sticky with tar and regret.
Her heart beats steady
but her mind is stuck in the past,
in its groove of morphine-addled dreaming,
and will it ever emerge? Will she stand
again, unsteady, and her hands –
what will they do with no occupation –
minus the flicking of cigarette ashes
into small glass trays?
Lipstick lingers on the filtered ends,
a net the toxins slipped through,
to tumor her lungs twice
& now tackle her gray matter.
My mother, my mater,
my sometimes foe in filial combat.
Now the roles flip-flop,
and flop again as she lies in wait
for what God & modern medicine can provide,
while he, my son, in utero, is burdened
with the byproducts of cortisol, nature,
nurture, history, and soul.
Today I rode my headache a hundred miles
to find myself at 8 with a mango in the bathtub,
juice dribbling down my chin, coarse hair
stuck in my teeth – my father nearby
joyous with the indulgence.
I promise to come out of here alive.
I’m ashamed of the shame
I have wrought upon my children,
my son washing his hands
sticky with juice, over and over,
the water running hot in the sink.
His hands are reddened, all fruit
scoured away. I can’t find a way
to bring him to the table,
to peel away the skin,
quarter the orange flesh,
and score it, fold each section back
so each square protrudes, inviting tooth
and tongue, cutting loose.
The mess is contained, washed away
the pit remains, gnawed to the bone.
I know in the end none of this matters.
Betsy Mars is a poet, educator, animal lover, mother, and traveler. Her work has been published by the Rise Up Review, Silver Birch, Gnarled Oak, The Ekphrastic Review, and in the California Quarterly journal, among others, as well as in a number of anthologies.