That first winter her wrists
were bruised blue from the IV: a word
she said suddenly often, its mysterious fluid
like a new, uninvited
My brother mostly waited at the door.
Twelve years old and six foot one
He’d push his hands into his pockets,
high-top laces dangling
on the floor. His glasses were always
smeared, their wire arms
I tiptoed in,
ready for my important task:
unroll a washcloth
from the stack above the sink.
Get it good and cold
baby girl, she’d call, wring the water out.
Her forehead shone. I pressed
the corners of the cloth to each temple
and after, lifting the sheet,
slipped in, careful not to bump
the tube sliding from her nose.
We lay together, my mother smoothing
my hair with her hand
as if in that small bed
that smelled of medicine
we didn’t know the names of
no one was wounded at all.
(I wrote an earlier version of this poem in 2008. With Mother’s Day coming up, I felt compelled to share it. I still feel like that young girl, trying to protect her mom, trying to heal her. To all the moms and daughters reading this, Happy (almost) Mother’s Day. The bond we share is surely one of life’s most intense, most complicated, and most beautiful.)