Sketches for a Genealogy


To everyone, she was Little
Mother, mother’s younger sister;

sometime shelter, confidant, friend—
The maids in neighbors’ houses, especially,

shyly came to ask for her advice:
deboning fish, preserving fruit,

extracting savor from crushed heads
of shrimp. To all, she gave unstinting

service in her prime: from dawn to dusk,
the only acolyte at kitchen sink and stove;

red-knuckled hand that scrubbed soiled linens,
that cut our morning bread. I never knew

her secrets or her true desires.
Though clearly, having had me young

then given me up years before she had
three others, her heart could not

have been immune. One afternoon, while
in her care after school in kindergarten,

she put away the laundry and took my hand,
saying we would walk to the plaza and have

lunch at a Chinese restaurant. She put
her finger on my lips, and her lips said

Don’t tell. The rest is a blur
of noise and oily smells. And then I was too

involved with strands of slippery
noodles in my bowl to notice anything else

about the man who sat next to her at our table,
only that she could not keep her eyes from his.


In response to Via Negativa: Hermetic.

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