Published in The Georgia Review, Summer 2014
She stood at the window and watched me.
How long she had waited for me to wake up
I dared not ask, nor could she have answered,
her jaws woven shut by the undertaker’s twine,
a trade she knew well, having taught herself
black work by night in the attic,
bodies laid down like her quilts lifted
out of the chest come the first killing frost,
dry ice tucked under their torsos to keep their corruption
from drifting downstairs to the breakfast nook
where she'd have set out a plate for my father,
her only child, knowing he rose early.
Last summer I found the quilts,
gnawed to batting by rats.
I sat awhile at her Singer that stitched
gowns and frocks during Hoover days,
the treadle still singing its rusty toil under
the soles of my feet as I pedaled it briefly.
Side-stepping chamberpots, I turned
the key left behind in her book case
where I might have rummaged through Latin
and palmistry volumes, ignored those
that detailed with stark illustration the inexorable
death of the tissues that swaddle
our bones, the journey of blood
that keeps trying to push its way down to the toes
before giving up. To give up the ghost
as the Bible describes the last breath--
how those words used to frighten me,
sleepless for fear I could hear her still
stitching and snipping, the body upon
which she lavished her skill not protesting
one last knot to pull its smile tighter,
so the bereaved might exclaim, as in life
they had never, “So pretty!
Look at her smiling for Jesus.”