A Triptych on the First Anniversary
of My Mother’s Death
in memory of
Dorothy Eloise Royal Luke
What’s heaven like? Mama asked three weeks
before she died. She was sitting
on a red couch, frail, her eyes closed.
Light through the picture window
streaked her white hair gold.
I recalled tales of paved streets and pearly gates,
said, I don’t know, but it must be . . .
wonderful, full of love.
Earth’s pretty wonderful too, she replied.
Mama had come from the womb of a cripple—
a miracle, declared spinster aunts who asked
for the child, if it lived, but predicted the death of both.
How my grandmother, felled by a stroke when her belly
was ripe, gave birth and then lived thirty years
to see me born is a mystery. Rocking on the front porch
to ease her pain, Grandma would fret over her yard,
then rise, hobble down the steps, dragging
a straw broom behind, and with one hand
sweep the South Georgia sand, tracing patterns
that rose in her head, like lines drawn by Navajo
medicine men and Zen masters she never knew.
Satisfied, winded from her work, she would limp
back up the stairs, collapse into her chair
and dare anyone to desecrate the designs.
Whenever Mama was upset she’d bake cakes,
swirling divinity icing into patterns
reminiscent of her mother’s swept sand yard.
The night she died, kin and caregivers
surrounded her bed, recited the twenty-third
psalm to bid her farewell.
We dressed her corpse in a blue nightgown,
sang gospel songs, lowered
the coffin into the ground.
Sun strikes the bench where I sit staring
at winter grass that carpets her grave,
dates etched in marble’s blue veins.
A sandpiper prances nearby.
Love blankets me, just as it covered Mama
the night she left her body for us to bury, just as
it warmed my grandmother when she edged
toward death…then returned to bear life.
Broad River Review, April 2013.
Winner of the 2012 Ron Rash Poetry Award.