Martha Silano

On the Way to the Grocery Store

I was up early because my tooth ached, because I roll that way:
early to bed, early demise. My reward: a hundred gulls 

spread out on a playing field at our local park, 
a hundred white handkerchiefs standing in the rain. 

Why today? Why now? A gift from my mother, I thought,
whom I cried to last night during Shavasana. 

Like so many children, a chorus of Oh, mom whys. 
Hundreds of thousands of dead moms. 

File her death under couldn’t dare visit a doctor 
for a heart check. Alone in her home, no one to ask.

I imagine her saying aloud to herself in that final 
soak in the tub: And so it ends. Cry for me.

Six months before, our brains stuffed with the wonders 
of Bourgeoisie and Basquiat, our bellies with challah 

and matzo ball soup, she blurted out like a child 
But why do we have to die? 

I open the cupboard, root around for the rolling pin, 
grab the flour and sugar, and there she is.  

When I return to the field an hour later, every gull 
is gone, as if they were never the bosses of the grass.

It must’ve been that black dog sniffing, chasing a ball. 
Must’ve been they were called to a better patch of grass.

I’m reminded of my mother’s chipped plate collection,

her blue-veined hands. The ease with which I could lift her up, 
make her laugh. As a girl, I was alarmed 
by the moles on her back—

what I wouldn’t give to see one, to ask if she’d gone to see a doctor, 
if she’d taken her blood pressure pills. I see her bending 
toward the oven to retrieve a tray of muffins—

she was an expert in all the womanly arts. Kugels and biscuits, biscotti and scones, 
but mostly at hiding her grief. When I spotted the doe and fawn 
crept up to take a photo, they were already gone. 

With her hands so pale, the gold band on her finger, removed 
only when she kneaded bread. Sometimes I’d see it 
on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, 

read the faint inscription: To MVK from AAS – 3-11-1951
Hands that were nearly always moving—mixing batter,
wiping countertops, holding a pencil or pen. 

Hands rejoining the Earth, the rocky Arkansas soil: what did they teach me? 
Subterfuge, martyrdom, passive-aggression. That a mother is always 
a mother. That a daughter must escape.

Martha Silano is the author of five volumes of poetry, including Gravity Assist, Reckless Lovely, and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, all from Saturnalia Books. She is also co-author of The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice. Martha’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and the Best American Poetry series. Honors include North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize and the Cincinnati Review’s Robert and Adele Schiff Poetry Prize. She teaches at Bellevue College and Seattle’s Hugo House. Her website is marthasilano.net.