When I Watched My Mother Paint

Kelly Weber

   her mother as a woman in a high-backed chair / with a northern flicker beak piercing my grandmother’s side / I stayed small on the floor behind her / knees tucked beneath chin / a daughter watching her / invent lungs from sky long dark hair falling past / the painted woman’s breasts / wrapped in thorns / buds strung across her throat / blue and green -singed squirrel-tail brushes harvested from roadkill / I am watching how a woman learns to forget / even her children to fall into / herself enough to make a second body / how a barbed tongue hunts whatever sweetness lives / between breaths / what my mother would not say of her mother / was a tongue I could not find my way through / a hummingbird trying to drink / from the red plastic flowers on the chest / of my childhood / bathing suit / blessing the air with thirst / and sugar I could not offer / she used to hunt in the woods with her father / every throat bowing / inside her / crosshairs the bullet that broke the morning to pieces / each red testament laying itself across the snow / during the war her father shot a snake between the legs of a man / who said he wanted to die / just to watch the blood splatter his shocked alive face / the first time I ripped the skin off my thumb / I was relieved / as if I’d torn the moon’s face / and found just a watt bulb behind it / bruising phosphorous in my eyes / with my fists / on the basement floor / beneath my mother and her mother / arguing desperate circles in the kitchen / I watch her draw the brush down the canvas / there are times I am still in the bedroom doorway / looking at red smears on my mother’s sheets / my voice saying mom, mom, mom like a pulse / clothespinned to a bird’s wing / so this is the portrait of a woman’s closed mouth / I return to / this is how I watch my mother’s back / bent toward the canvas / in this basement studio / with its cold cement floor / and ground-level window / this is how/ how I pluck a single blonde strand / of sunlight tangled on a branch / on the other side of glass / wrap it around my finger / remember that some of the most acidic ash in the world is wood smoke / that when a forest burns / the ghost of all that green / paint that proves beauty is always this close / to poison

about the author