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by Fleda Brown |

I Write My Mother a Poem

Sometimes I feel her easing further into her grave, 
resigned, as always, and I have to come to her rescue. 
Like now, when I have so much else to do. Not that 

she'd want a poem. She would have been proud, of course, 
of all its mystery, involving her, but scared a little. 
Her eyes would have filled with tears. It always comes 

to that, I don't know why I bother. One gesture 
and she's gone down a well of raw feeling, and I'm left 
alone again. I avert my eyes, to keep from scaring her. 

On her dresser is one of those old glass bottles 
of Jergen's Lotion with the black label, a little round 
bottle of Mum deodorant, a white plastic tray 

with Avon necklaces and earrings, pennies, paper clips, 
and a large black coat button. I appear to be very 
interested in these objects, even interested in the sun 

through the blinds. It falls across her face, and not, 
as she changes the bed. She would rather have clean sheets 
than my poem, but as long as I don't bother her, she's glad 

to know I care. She's talked my father into taking 
a drive later, stopping for an A & W root beer. 
She is dreaming of foam on the glass, the tray propped 

on the car window. And trees, farmhouses, the expanse 
of the world as seen from inside the car. It is no 
use to try to get her out to watch airplanes 

take off, or walk a trail, or hear this poem 
and offer anything more than "Isn't that sweet!" 
Right now bombs are exploding in Kosovo, students 

shot in Colorado, and my mother is wearing a root beer 
mustache. Her eyes are unfocused, everything's root beer. 
I write root beer, root beer, to make her happy.

from Breathing In, Breathing Out, Anhinga Press, 2002
© 2000, Fleda Brown
(first published in The Southern Review, 36 [2000])

by Fleda Brown |

The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives

She reads, of course, what he's doing, shaking Nixon's hand, 
dating this starlet or that, while he is faithful to her 
like a stone in her belly, like the actual love child, 
its bills and diapers. Once he had kissed her 
and time had stood still, at least some point seems to 
remain back there as a place to return to, to wait for. 
What is she waiting for? He will not marry her, nor will he 
stop very often. Desireé will grow up to say her father is dead. 
Desireé will imagine him standing on a timeless street, 
hungry for his child. She will wait for him, not in the original, 
but in a gesture copied to whatever lover she takes. 
He will fracture and change to landscape, to the Pope, maybe, 
or President Kennedy, or to a pain that darkens her eyes. 

"Once," she will say, as if she remembers, 
and the memory will stick like a fishbone. She knows 
how easily she will comply when a man puts his hand 
on the back of her neck and gently steers her. 
She knows how long she will wait for rescue, how the world 
will go on expanding outside. She will see her mother's photo 
of Elvis shaking hands with Nixon, the terrifying conjunction. 
A whole war with Asia will begin slowly, 
in her lifetime, out of such irreconcilable urges. 
The Pill will become available to the general public, 
starting up a new waiting in that other depth. 
The egg will have to keep believing in its timeless moment 
of completion without any proof except in the longing 
of its own body. Maris will break Babe Ruth's record 
while Orbison will have his first major hit with 
"Only the Lonely," trying his best to sound like Elvis.

© 1999, Fleda Brown
(first published in The Iowa Review, 29 [1999])