Altogether my mother had seventy-five kimonos—different weaves,
varied weights—museum quality, priceless. Don’t ask why she had them:
hardscrabble prairie wife, they were her only treasures.
The pleasure she took in them! The smile in her eyes when she stroked
their hems, like the neighbors’ mother when she brushed her daughter’s hair,
her son’s warm cheek. She only paid us any mind when we vandalized her silks.
Wrapped in whisper tissue, folded with mortician care,
(precision of a curator) they survived her. Early on,
they filled the house. On walls, framed and matted or suspended
from ceiling fans, where they billowed out around the room
like arching ghosts. Curtains for doorways,
phantoms high in bedroom gables, drapes over too-bright lamps.
She had seven portraits painted, each in a different kimono.
One year in spring-willow embroidered pink, the next, in opulent red
with hand-painted black chrysanthemums. When she died,
we divided them. One sister built a shrine, each kimono displayed
behind glass on walls painted ivory. The brothers sold theirs to collectors
who slavered to see such pre-war prizes. My youngest sister
pulled them apart, made clotted, splotched collages she sells
from the back of her van. Mine, I wadded into tight bales bound with string.
The crumpling and cinching was important. I never touch them.
—from Rattle #20, Winter 2003