Her fingers always smelled of cabbage,
Not like my mother’s hands
From the raw bacon she’d wrap
Around the Halupkis,
But like the boiling water she’d plunge
Her hands into after slivering out
The core of the cabbage,
Unafraid of the blade.
I used to think her fingertips
Must be callused hard scalded beyond
The way she manhandled those cabbage leaves.
Her fingernails were stubbly squares
And I wondered how she’d managed
To wrap them around that bottle of boilo,
That boilo that burned my nose hairs
When I took a whiff
That boilo that she slugged down
Between folding the ground pork and sticky rice
Into a cabbage bundle, raw pig in a blanket.
She was a young widow, once,
A presser who smoothed out the blood clots
Her husband hacked up
With her heavy old iron.
The checks for the Black Lung
Came on the first of the month.
Used to find them, damp,
In her apron pocket.
She told me it was
To fall asleep once he passed.
She used to parcel her going to sleep
Into measures of his wheezing.
She could count on that syncopation
She told me
To soothe her off to sleep.
She became an insomniac
After he was dead and buried,
Recycled his handkerchiefs
To polish the toaster,
To spit shine her shoes,
To dab at her lipstick that oozed
The corners of her mouth.
They found her
One fine summer morning
When the mountain laurel was in bloom.
She’d gone picking huckleberries
Up the side of the mountain,
Collected them in rusted tin coffee can.
She used to like the sound of the berries
Clanging into that can.
Counted them till the sun
Made her dizzy and she climbed back
Down the mountain.
Her old sundress, all covered
In closing-go-to-sleep flowers,
Was hung on the bathroom door
Over her acetate powder blue nightgown.
They found her
In the bathtub,
All sunk down and comfortable
With a cigarette still
Burning on the edge of the tub
And a glass of boilo
Rippling through the bathwater,
Her fingers still stained
Still on her hands.
January 27, 2014