Plate of fresh lemons
After my blood has swirled away
into ribbons in the phlebotomist’s hand,
weeks after the firm rub
of the nurse’s palm on my bicep,
the agony on cold carpets
in empty houses,
I cradle a steel bowl. Whisk. Weigh
lemons in each hand.
A numb cumulus of steam
clams the kitchen, puffs on the tiny window
as I lean in silence, swing open the latch
to a birdless yard
stiff and creased with winter.
The lemons sweat in their pans.
The clouds rise, pale as butter—
puddling skyward, precious as breath.
A small girl clicks past
on a bicycle, shudders down a gear
as I sprint, greasy in the rain
to race her in secret. Her socked legs
tumble and fail, tiny scabs
of geranium flashing wet
on her knees as she flings herself
onto her driveway, bicycle
skewed like a crow. I fold double,
pant in the laughing wind.
In the frosted glass, her mother blurs,
tugs open the door
and I need it all of a sudden—
the gasping unveiling of gritty knees,
the silence of drizzle and rust.
The towels give you away. They surface like fish
across bedsheets, bath mats, the space you claim─
belly piercing clinking against the sink
in front of the hairsprayed mirror. Sometimes I hear them
beside baskets, heavy as mud, their damp thud
at the foot of your bed. Grinding each high heel
into the fibre, fake tan smudging your feet,
your shadow unravels from bath towels,
tugged from a sour heap. Stunned to see
I have some of you left, I heap them into my arms,
mine them from mildewed corners. Cuddle their stale folds.
We grew apart in inches, not miles.
The house hummed, an empty theatre,
our mother pushing the vacuum
between our silence. Hacking
clots of broken words, your lungs
drained themselves into your pillows,
fists thumping softly
until you sucked in again, stained your breath
from a chilly window. Where are you–
I knuckled the question into the wall
which dragged on between us, searched
with my palms for your warmth.
A blank inch pulled you away, and I listened
to those hisses, those furious sobs,
heard the weight of them
bending your spine. The vacuum
tumbled to a stop. You stopped hissing,
opened your window, blew quiet smoke
After my father left, I found him
five days later, working
with cables. As if nothing had changed,
squeezing cool pliers, a handful of tape
to stick himself together
in rags of summer blue.
I crouched there, hunched like a ragdoll
forgotten, spying and ashamed.
As he tugged and grasped
I watched him twine the slim asps
round his knuckles, clip colours, and I saw
for one moment only, his frown
through the weepy steam of his tea
rainbows spring from my father’s fingers,
a split-second sparkle, I’m sorry.