MY GRANDMOTHER LISTENS TO MAHALIA JACKSON "I sing God's music because it makes me feel free.” In the kitchen damp with towels drying, the light grey outside the window, outside the net curtain, the panes misty, she dries her hands on her apron and stops work. She stands to hear Mahalia, singing, far away, outside the measured hymns of chapel, outside the valley, the circumscribing hills and slagheaps. Mahalia is singing from a place this woman knows only from papers and the radio, but knows it is a hard place and that the song rises out of it, indomitable. The voice laps and croons, swings way, way to heaven, and hails, and shouts, wild like the wind battering the slate roof and the drainpipes, runnels of soot down the chimney, like the clouds, like the heart. Mahalia sings to her, as David’s harpist sings to her, Yea, in the Valley, Thou.
PRAYER SONG OF THE HEART He flies, like a cosmonaut, all day and all night, attached by tubes to air, to blood, to milk, and by her voice and latex-fingered touch to his mother. What strange new world that hath such lights, such jangles in it, and what weight to bear on bird-bone shoulders. But his rib cage rises after each fall, his heart pumps its milliliters of blood, accompanied by the hiccups of the monitor and by our own slow strong beats marking time from near and far. * May your eyes find their mark may your mouth suckle may you turn toward my voice may your hand grasp my finger may your foot pull back may your colon expel feces may you piss generously may you spit up may you grizzle and wail may you smile at us * You dream the colors and configurations of comfort and discomfort, knowing already cold and hunger distance, loss. Forgive us, We too believed in the happy ever after but will settle for here and now: your small weight in our arms and your lips parted, as if to say, “Oh.”
THE ETIQUETTE OF GRIEF The doll cried what I Wanted to cry, the inconsolable Repetitive maa-maa Bleating from the rose Of perforations in its back. My father had just died, And my mother stood At the sink, back turned, Peeling potatoes. She wanted not to frighten us Or herself, as I want, Now she's dead and past Caring, to let her mourn, To bring her back And let her sit, lumpy And disheveled on the sofa. Her freckled arms sag Between her knees. She stares Through us children, and lets The tears smear and dribble Down her face. Her nose Runs, but she doesn't wipe it. He's gone, she whispers. What will become of me.
Maura High was born in Wales. As a child, she moved with her family from country to country, and then taught in secondary schools in Nigeria before emigrating to the United States. She now lives and works, as an editor and translator, in North Carolina. A chapbook, The Garden of Persuasions, was published by Jacar Press, and other poems have appeared in online and print journals and anthologies.