The heart in vital meter recites.
A beat on a childhood table strikes.
It strikes. I hear my mother sigh.
Plates of grape-leaves, her lemon
light, strung on a sacred sigh
above my every bite. I couldn’t tell
why she lamented. Or why her voice
was torn out like a sheet one night,
its hundred- thousand threads shorn
in one quick scream. Now
my own child wakes in the night
weaving invisible threads
in her vague little hands—Mama,
she asks, what if you die? Her face
in mine. Who will take care of us
if you’re dead? And I fold her in,
kiss her fear to sleep again.
On the operating table,
one electrical impulse late,
the surgeon syncopates
my father’s rhythm, simulating
death— to see
what will happen. For a beat,
through lead and vein, a thread.
His pulse is drawn, a new breath
spun again. In his blue phase
my father painted a woman’s legs
scissored across the jagged edges
of our stair-well, up into the hell
of bedrooms circling our hall.
Remnants of his art everywhere.
Body parts and heads of clay
reclining on a tray where I’d once
braided home-made dough, painted it
with egg white, and watched the tempered
batter rise. It cooked until it blushed
just right. How, out of the oven, I hungered
for the pastries we presented to strangers
on delicate wax paper, as my mother
in sugared meters whispered, bravo
my child, bravo; for the beautiful biscuits
I’d kneaded. I didn’t know why. She served
those biscuits on Easter, because Christ
gave his life. I tended to her batter,
lay her dough beneath a blanket, let it
rise without occasion. On the table,
my father is bound and tailored
while the surgeon, exhausted
by his labor, in a single breath delivers
his verdict to the waiting: stable.