A PORTRAIT OF MY LATVIAN MOTHER
My mother's broad wrists
struggle with gold chains;
brown marks, not moles or freckles,
she says, just spots. She's some leopard,
hair like sifted brown flour.
We don't often touch,
not like my grandmother and I astride the hammock,
my short leg balanced on her longer one.
The clasp of a gold chain caught
in my mother's hair, I untangle the wispy strands,
I touch the bald spaces.
She touches my hair, saying,
You're lucky, you have such thick hair.
I rub her sweaty scalp.
She smells good,
like something I'd like to touch
and breathe in: remembering
her chestnut hair swooped into a bun,
scooped neck dress to show off
the fine slope of her shoulders.
I zip her dress, she talks,
If you hadn't given up playing piano,
she shakes her head. All that music.
She sighs. What she wants
to say is lost in those moments
when she sat to listen to me
play her favorite composers:
Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, or Brahms.
Could you send me combs, she asks,
I can't find them here, you know,
the tortoise shell, they sit well in my hair.
On the night of group therapy
Asya stands beside
the large crystal edged mirror
in which she sees
the black leather footstools, the aqua leather chairs,
the much used ash trays of her living room,
her group asks,
What are you doing?
She replies, I want to see
what you look like without me.
500 people attend her funeral. I don't know them.
My sister and I walk down the long aisle.
I can't stop crying.
From the front row I stare
at the wilted red balloon dangling
from one handle of the coffin.
It is supposed to be helium,
but we couldn't find one.
Don't wear black, wear white, Asya had said.
Do not mourn, celebrate. Play with the balloons.