Each night at dinner, in lieu of grace,
my mother lit the center candle
on the table. We children
were allowed two fingers of wine
from the icy jug that was kept cold
out on the front porch. The seven of us
shared bread and casserole on our full plates
and the light filled the room with luster.
Each of us had a task: clear the dishes,
wipe the table, snuff out
the half-melted candle,
its smoky trail reaching to the ceiling
like fingers folding into prayer.
When the washer was full,
we’d stand by the sink, my mother and I,
her hands plunged into the soapy water,
mine holding a dish towel,
removing the dripping pans from the drainer,
and wiping the water away, to expose the shine.
We’d stand there in the evening hour
quietly perfecting every keepsake minute.
Later in life, I stand in class, by the desk
in front of students as we discuss short fiction,
plunging into emerging themes.
A daughter and mother in one story
bathe together in a tub infused
with herbs and bark.
The same characters travel to market
to gather bread, butter, and fish
to prepare together later.
The mother preserves the daughter’s childhood
in a trunk: plaid dresses and yellowed blankets,
mementos aired out and refolded again.
In capital letters, I write ritual,
chalk powdering the folds of my slacks. Together
we learn that these acts are connective tissue that bind
our muscle to bone. Though pages away,
miles, or even years, we, as characters
break bread, fold hands into each other’s,
light the light that will unblind us.
from Four Blue Eggs