The palm of my hand reads like a road map
the lines are dirt roads leading up to
a yellow porch dog blinking at neighbors
warding off cicadas, water dripping from
his big dog snout. I followed a crease, past
the wobbly legs of weeping willows,
to Miss Kat’s fudge brownies and
her stories of the men who lived here before us-
her skeleton shakes when she laughs.
I have reached the thumb now
I stop at a circle driveway, the only pool in the neighborhood
undisturbed and vain
like glass, like a mother doing laundry
the vent from the basement breathing out Downy
and bleach. There are tulips in the patio urn
and Japanese maples in the back
a rounded-crown leaf fitting squarely in my hand
turned a fist, folding the map
and protecting history in my pocket.
My mother saved a nest of baby birds
in early May, the air mild and hushed
when you can see the gray melting
into colors we forgot existed.
She saved them in a shoebox, the
4 or 5 warm pink bellies and worried herself sick.
I heard if we touch a newborn animal,
its mother won’t come back. But I drove with
my own to the 24-hour convenience store for
baby food and watched her careful hands
under a flickering porch light,
how she shivered beneath an indifferent moon.
Every last bird had died
before the first call of the morning chickadee
when the world was still very blue. I think about
those birds now, their weak skin, every inch of it
vulnerable and dependent on my mother.
She’d be the last thing they could count on
and she had to know
what kind of mother wouldn’t come back.
I learned to ride a bike so
that I could keep up with the neighborhood kids-
the public-school boys, with their
baseball trading cards and Coca Cola breath
On tires we were equals, weightless
our lungs a cocoon
for magnolias in full bloom
summertime sweat and Coppertone Sport
Mikey’s dad and his Irish Whiskey
my own with a failing heart
becoming white noise
beyond our eternal horizon
the liberation was palpable,
feeling like a helmet bruised knee and
dirt cementing on the skin of my legs.
Our tire patterns looked like braids
and I thought I may never follow them home.