My Mother, Receding
Most comfortable along the edges
of the house, we talk
in the rectangular sliver of the laundry room,
a thin inlet an architect once set
to moat the main rooms,
perfect for intervals of retreat:
utilitarian, necessary, and small.
In the bathroom, we pause by the circles of sinks,
hover outside the quarter-swing
of doors mapped to indicate egress,
now a comfort to know where to slip behind.
While waiting for the tiny enclave’s escape,
a flash of chat, the fragile moment
like a bead strung between etiquette and routine.
The rooms of your house are busy with family
and clatter, things knocked and dropped
so you circle, peripheral,
ready to erase. Presence and absence
meet through a sere scrim —
opaque at arm’s length,
gauze-shrouded when close by.
In the garage, backs turned, we bend at the waist,
each foraging: lightbulbs, wrapping,
thing to ease the needs of others.
Outside, in the swale of the side yard we kneel
lower to sort roots, maintain growth,
leave the lone weed that starts to rise up.
Furtive, interruptable, and only mildly afraid,
we navigate the house’s currents,
arrange the selvage against
the dark wave already
gathering for the next dawn.
My Seed, My Jewel, My Secret
Tell me, just how deep can you be?
Dark of my heart,
bright of my moon,
bade of my making,
yet the one wish that could never be willed.
Stirred from lost silt,
panned from found water,
a gem-glint rising to meet my outstretched hand.
Let us be close, close as each making
the coil that once wound me
respiraling its eights as a new weave
twists in, binding like bodies
together reaching the edge of a green field,
where you’re been waiting,
a brush of blown dust husked
at your catching. We cleave –
knit of this making – and split –
born to this parting, as one day
you’ll rise, cleft from my heart
to break your way out.
The Present Perfect
“At the end of my suffering, there was a door…”
– Louise Gluck
The dishes piled high in the sink,
the dust gathering behind the doorjambs,
the cat’s worrisome limp,
the resume that needs to go out,
boxes still piled high,
now unmarked mysteries.
The tininess of his hand,
the smoothness of his cheek
that squirmy warmth in my arms,
the fullness of his weight,
elemental as mineral, stone.
The air the same as the body’s temperature,
so that waking in the pocket of night
to inhale the scented halo clouding,
around the baby’s hair, I realize
we have come to the present perfect,
the tense we never thought we’d know.
The full table finally before us,
set with sugar, set with salt,
white roses cut from the dying bush
that returned in spring to offer
what it could once again.
Elline Lipkin is a poet, academic, and nonfiction writer. Her first book, The Errant Thread, was chosen by Eavan Boland for the Kore Press First Book Award. Her second book, Girls’ Studies, was published by Seal Press and explores contemporary girlhood in America. A Research Scholar with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women, she also teaches poetry for Writing Workshops Los Angeles and is the current Poet Laureate of Altadena.