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You wake one morning to see a family member
reflected in your face, a turn of lip, a twitch,
a trick to make what’s absent present.
Younger, I thought I saw my grandmother’s
pluck inside my eyes. I adopted her cackle,
love of heifers and cornbread. Her orneriness
came slippery even on ordinary days.
My mother’s eyes were green,
mine are not, as if the biology of color
could be an explanation for our rifts.
But my brow is like hers now, flat,
grim, more pensive, where once
mine had a playful upward arch.
The best photo I have of my mom
is as a toddler, standing in a barnyard.
Coal-black hair, eyes locked
on the camera’s lens, mended cotton
dress and ankle socks, shoes caked
in mud and pig shit, her left arm
draped around a Bluetick’s neck,
her face already showing signs
of how worry affected her.
She did try to be my mama,
but always seemed to make choices
that were not so much decision
as the least worse option.
She would go thin, sleep a lot.
Then came the drugs.
It took me years to soften
the edges of my bitterness.
A few months before she passed,
I took her driving along the rural roads
where she was raised. I hoped returning
would spark memories, fill her with light,
the way the heat of day warms the bones.
Instead, she bucked and scratched,
straining the seat belt, eyes like a rabid hound,
words like matchsticks struck along the dashboard.
My broken brow quivered in the rearview,
her howls crawled the air like fire.
Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio.
From A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen by Kari Gunter-Seymour (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2020).