Nancy Mitchell

April 10, 2015 Mitchell Nancy



:           Its smell didn’t wake my husband

as well—ceiling fans paddling the night air—

he’d married me only

on the condition I quit; claimed just a whiff

swelled his eyes to slits, throttled

breath, although I never did see it; fifteen years

and if he catches a fugitive

wisp in my hair, I’m quick

to wash it out; into any guest smoker’s hand

he presses clam shells and shoos

them down the steep stone steps to our pond

dock; morning mist after, his robe blacker

he’s kneeling like a supplicant,

fishing out tossed filters, miniature derelict

buoys bobbing along the shoreline. Shielding


his eyes with a pillow, I turned on the light and found

no sign of smoke; the smell could not be tracked beyond our bedroom.

:           Yes that exact smell and the staccato of tap water hitting the copper

kettle bottom were the only signs my mother was

up and about; her feet, our family joked, never

seemed to touch the floor, in contrast to our father’s window-shuddering tread,

her warning to douse the Virginia Slim and switch on the stove’s exhaust fan.


(Likewise at his shoe’s thud on the first stair riser, my sister would spritz

Aqua Net while I’d stub out our cigarettes—pilfered from our mother’s Kotex

box stash—and flick them out the window where butts littered the porch

roof like pigeon dung,


so by the time our father flung open the door and lunged

flushed and huffing into our bedroom, in surprise, we’d raise our iridescent

blue linered-eyes from the glossy pages of Seventeen.)



:         YouTube BBC TV clip in which a young lawyer, breasts

doubled in tweed asserts most certainly that her deceased Italian

  grandmother often accompanies her traffic-snarled

commutes as the smell of garlic

freshly grated and split garlic on a cutting board;

punctuating with a twisted, arthritic finger, an elderly man insists

while alone in the waiting room of a Manchester Jiffy Lube, it was his late

wife in the chair next to him wafting Easter Lilies blossoming in snow-

covered late March; the pierced-lipped teenager lisping


swear to f-ing god it was him, a year now just dropped

dead her father shrouded in Old Spice

scrim soothing her nightmare jagged sleep.



:           School mornings it would wind upstairs,

twenty minutes of sleep before she’d Rise and Shine

us out of bed, until eighteen and crazy

 in love I left to live with a boy who left too soon, his car

exhaust evaporating in hot noon.



To say this was the not the visitation I’d hope for from my late mother

would be ungrateful; she was scrupulously fair, took great care to make things

equal if not the same. In no way does it compare


:          to my sister’s account: awakened by soft cheek

strokes to behold mother’s smooth face, brow

unfurrowed, radiance of her

favorite yellow roses   haloed by billows of blond

Bacall hair. Smiling she kissed my sister’s forehead, and floated on a pink

chiffon cloud into the night, trailing

a wake of Glycerin and Rosewater.


:           But no,   this was my mother all right     smoking

alone         waiting        for the kettle to sing

steam into the dark kitchen   watching        her face

vanish    in the windowpane

glass as the sky lightened         smoking

as was her wish     smoking       as was her wont

smoking        as was her      only

do   as I      damned      well please.


Nancy Mitchell is a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner and the author of The Near Surround, Grief Hut and the The Out-of- Body Shop. She teaches at Salisbury University in Maryland and serves as Associate Editor of Special Features for Plume. She is the Poet Laureate of the City of Salisbury, Maryland.