The breeze this morning pulls on the surface of the bay,
spinning the short-clipped waves like the notes on the brass cylinder
of a music box—sky as open lid, miniature ballerina turning
more and more slowly in place
though these waves keep pulsing—no familiar tune
to let go when the ballerina finally stops.
She must have been part bird,
all her flocking instinct
focused on her son
as though it weren’t just the two of them
at the kitchen table.
If he had known about her feathers
he might have forgiven her.
But the squawking and years of therapy
piled up in the ammonia air
made it difficult to breathe, and so he left.
It’s been five years
and only now he starts to wonder
at her wavering voice on the phone
and he thinks of their old clothesline
strung high from pine to pine
and how it might be difficult for her now
to hang the heavy clothes
but that’s the closest he’s come
to picturing his mother,
arms raised in the air
as a bird would its wings.
If he had known she were part squirrel,
her husband might have understood
her fidgety Novembers, hoarding
everything it seemed, hats and gloves,
ingredients for future meals,
the pantry cabinet full of jars meticulously labeled.
But they always fought in autumn,
went back to that same female therapist
who blamed the holidays,
unfulfilling Christmases, traumatic Thanksgivings—
the therapist who always sided with her husband
and did not understand
that when she thwipped him with her tail
which he sensed but could not see,
she was only trying to balance
on the thin branch of his misconceptions
about who she really was,
come autumn or spring, for that matter.
Sally Bliumis-Dunn teaches Modern Poetry at Manhattanville College. Her poems appeared in the Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Plume, Poetry London, the New York Times and PBS NewsHour, among others. Her third collection, Echolocation, was published by Plume Editions/Madhat Press in March 2018.