Memory of Sickness, with Mother

A sewing tin with a ship 
in full sail on its label
used to hold water crackers—

which I thought, once, were
a type of transparent biscuit,
thin enough to float on the surface

of a liquid. When she suffered
from migraines, she asked me to tie
a large handkerchief tightly around

her head. She asked me to take
handfuls of hair then tug repeatedly
as hard as I could, until she fell

at last into a kind of drugged sleep.
No one in the family ever said
the word "faint," though it's what

she did at the high end of every
domestic quarrel. A sob, a scream,
then a crumpling to the floor

in a heap, unmoving. The first
time I witnessed it, I thought
she'd died. I hadn't yet seen

anyone really dead, nor known
what it could mean to die; only read
sentences in books describing orphaned

children— When the mother died,
the father took another wife who came
and lived with them, along with her

own grown children. When the mother
died, the father took another wife
who said they could no longer afford

to feed the child. Then the child
was led into a wood, where the moon
shone like an uncut birthday

cake frosted with dingy, mottled
silver. Then the birds came to eat
crumbs strewn on the road, for that

is what birds do. They never think
of things as signs for anything else
other than what they are:

cubed crusts of day-old bread,
cream-colored grains as small
and pearled as broken teeth.

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