Elegy Ending in the Sound of a Sewing Machine
Today I say I’m going to visit my mother in California—
though we have not spoken in years—it sounds perfect
to say on my birthday. I’ve always thought so, ever since
I saw a movie where a woman flies around the world
to brush her dying mother’s hair. This morning, I cut
my hair with orange scissors in the bathroom, then looked
in the mirror, expecting to see my mom’s ivory face. I squinted
to magnify the stray hairs, kept cutting till my bangs were even
enough. Haircuts at home are a kind of youth, and it ends
poorly or mostly forgotten. I packed two dresses and drove
out of the country. I like a road that keeps me awake. I like a road
where the speed limits change and there are other signs,
like a deer jumping up, Icy Road, or Mountain Ahead.
And somewhere, a known downward slope. I watched
someone who could be my mother driving behind me
in a sputtering pickup with an old sewing machine tied to the bed
of the truck. I thought, even now someone with tangled hair
is watching her mother sew a yellow dress for her birthday.
I asked my mom to buy a blue suit
so I could match the ocean’s own blue
on good days. She took me to the beach once
and bad-mouthed how bright and sandy it was,
both bad for the skin. How bad to be dark.
She said she’d never take me to the beach
again so I took my blue suit to Mai’s,
who only lived two liquor stores away.
We floated in the pool, not talking or laughing,
but holding onto foam and trying not to move.
I could live like this, I thought, lie here
and have my own kind of drifting blue.
I could have a small ocean without sand,
a chlorine-clean white ladder to guide me
into the deep end, and the same ladder
to help me out. I could lay by the pool
beneath the motel sign outside Mai’s home
and turn back my tan to oyster-white.