Poetry

"I Know How To Do This"

At 2:00 a.m. I unlatch the giant window,
this porthole which gapes out across the reservoir.
Whoa! The moist wind belts my face! Below me,
the trees along Fifth Avenue are great fans
of yellow, rained upon and drying now like
blousy laundry. Lamplight and cloudlight
ride the air. I lean out. The wind comes stronger.
No one would understand if I went tumbling
out my porthole. They'd just find me on the
sidewalk, a gnarl of squashed pajamas.
And tonight I don't want to die.

Tonight I want to fly. Maybe when we die, 
that's the first thing that happens.
I know I've flown before. I know how to do this!
Tonight I want to streak out across those
drowsy trees, nose-dive the reservoir,
and then, like the gulls, simply dip my toes
into that warm black water—Up again! Lunge,
blitz the sky, oh to just let out
one whoop: Hello, Halloo, Huzzah!

Maybe I wouldn't fall. Maybe I wouldn't die.
Maybe I'd just be this joyous fling, these flying pajamas.

"Mother at Seventy-Three"

Mother takes her teeth out
and then comes in to see if I still love her.
Barefoot, she walks across our hall, pulling
the ties of her pink tumble-down bathrobe.
She stands angled in my doorway. She's watching me.
"I took my teeth out," she says, narrowing her eyes.
I give her back nothing but a fixed smile.
She sniffs. "Someday," she says, "you, too,
will have to take your teeth out."
She pats her hair. It is the color of
moonshine. She told me so.

This time, Mother brought me pink rubrum lilies,
plunged into a yellow bucket. They bounced
in the car all the way up the New Jersey Turnpike.
She brought a Smithfield ham and bourbon.
She sips the bourbon in my garden
and tells my little girl, "Listen, you—
Aging is very strange. Do you think I
feel the way I look?" My little girl thinks,
then shakes her head. Mother says
"Of course not. Inside I'm a sylph.
A sylph. Look it up."

After dinner, Mother plays the piano.
She pumps the loud pedal like stepping on the gas,
and says to me, "Remember Hurricane Hazel?
You were five. The lights went out. You danced
through the candles while I played a Swedish waltz."
Her smile is grand as she plays the Swedish waltz.
My little girl dances. Mother nods and says
her daily mantra: "You'll miss me when I'm gone."

And I grab up her words and her waltz 
and the turn of her old, pretty head 
and I shake away my fear like a dog.

© 2019 by Nan Knighton, site design by Nick Kassoy

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