I want to read poetry, the kind that sheds its skin
and leaves translucence lying on the back step,
or read like starlings, excited birds that chatter endlessly
above my head, shuffling through pages of juniper.
I don’t know foreign alphabets or strange insects.
I only know the flutter at the window
when the light goes out,
and the moth has no center,
like my mother’s dementia. I remember my neck, she says,
propping her chin in the hammock of her hands,
while I compare the color red to the color red,
trace the burgundy lines of tallow waxed to the kitchen table,
read about medieval castles, their maroon tapestries
strung from doorposts.
I can read all the parts of red.
It starts with an open vein and ends in the Sangre de Cristo range
streaked with pale pink, burgundy, maroon, berry-berry,
classic red, double mocha until I think I am describing lipstick,
and choose process narration. I paint my mother’s nails
and her lips to match,
dip the brush in pink coral and stroke
its tiny bristles over her thumbnail, twist the tube marked rose
and stroke her upper lip. I don’t conceal anything,
just keep on stroking until I get cause and effect,
until the color of wine tints my memory, until the starling moth
clings to the night shade,
until nothing but red frames the blue opal
of her necklace, and the owl picks up the snake skins,
one by one, wings them away, and I am left
with a familiar alphabet stringing the margin,
the tenacious feet of frail insects clutching the screen.
—from Rattle #23, Summer 2005