Sasha Pimentel
13 Ways of Knowing Her

1.

Mother tells me a bird is trying to kill her. I tighten. Memory her ticking eye, opening and closing. Snap on a dress, shell of her breath swallowing the phone. (Pitch.) The bird sings, kills her softly, minutely.

 

Now my mother is trilling loudly, high with starling’s call.

 

2.

Only at night do I know her solitude, halo of infomercials, her cramping cool and yellow leg, and somewhere outside, her husband, the unstruck bell of morning birds.

 

3.

I try to ask her where she is.

 

Your father took the car when I had an accident; I never drove again. The only place I can’t hear it is the downstairs bathroom; I’ve been here for a week. House of her body, animal in grief. I carry my mother on my shoulder, cage her voice against my cheek, walk her near-confessions through my home—una stanza all’altra—her single room closing in. Outside my window: Juárez burns. Her ticking eye must be fluttering already, eye’s lid of feathers bobbing to shadow, and it’s killing me: I can’t sleep: and when I wake, it’s at the window. Her tiles creased with bleach.

 

I hide my love for birds, and streets.

 

4.

Nest of my mother’s hands:

 

shifting and slipping to signs, to an unstruck slap, and once, the vortex
of a hundred beetles.

 

5.

I wake to sense a brushing on my neck.

 

6.

Middle nights she braced her stomach around my knees, whispering, shh, it’s me, it’s Mama, so I wouldn’t kick—knew to name her weight so I’d understand it wasn’t my father’s growing shape. Falling

 

     wakes: shift

 

     from the cool center of water, rippling, to the point at which ice

 

cracks. He came home from work unbuckled, snaked his belt to chill the air, his teeth opaque. Mother helped him hold her children onto the bed.

 

After, she entered

 

     our room, clicking like starling, her hands viscous with Vicks, our          welts rising, eyelashes glazing cotton. Moonlight hummed, her                throat

 

     vibrating. The medical smell of my mother’s wrists.

 

7.

Susan Wood asks if grief were a bird, and my microwave dings.

 

     Seven men fall to their knees, past the wall, across the border.

 

     My mouth clot with iron.

 

Starlings are aggressive; they have been seen evicting bluebirds, kibitzing with blackbirds, are fierce protectors of their young. Shakespeare’s Hotspur imagined this creature mimicking Mortimer, Mortimer!, beak whistling a man’s name to keep his anger still in motion, so anglophile near-ornithologists unfold 100 starlings across the ocean into Central Park—into the late 19th century, the sky splattered with calling and leaving.

 

Father comes too late at the doorknob, my mother’s ear hinging to hear his direction.

 

8.

I buy her a plastic owl on Amazon.com.

 

                                             It’s solar-powered, neck pivots, eyes glow.

 

The adult in me no longer wants to love. Like this. But I remember the
prayer of her armpit on my shoulder, her breasts crescent on my nascent own, the smell of carpet and carrying her cramped and dragging legs. Mortimer!—, my mother—

 

                                             her voice on the phone sobbing my name

keeps my anger still in motion, and I click for priority ship.

 

9.

I come home from work and my husband’s crying. The sky louvered
with smoke. He holds one of our chickens, cave of her throat slipped from the dog’s mouth. Her eye. Glossy as moon.

 

     Her feathers rise and fall.

 

          El Diario: Marcan siete asesinatos el fin de semana, and

 

     I curl my palm around her neck.

 

10.

The next day her voice is high. She’s stroking the carved plastic crown

from the box.

 

Gifted. Gratitude. (We’re all so grateful to be alive.)

 

     I tell her to spear the fake owl next to the weeping willow, let its               head quiver with each rotation. I clink ice inside my glass, cradle my      mother hot room to room.

 

11.

Tile edges her sobbing.

 

She wants to know where my father is.

 

(Accordion: my knuckles.) I remember the floor, fibers floating the hallway, the uneven pitch of her whines, my father’s crackling breath.

 

But the bird continues to sing. I’m sorry, I say, I’m sorry.

 

Memories of waking:

 

     Clouds creamy with snow.

 

     Startling black flight from the magnolia—

 

     Talcum powder winged from my mother’s hands. And the sound of a
     piano hinge, the unplayed key.

 

Before my mother hobbles, she counts, necessary ritual to leave a room: each light switch whipping on and off, 13 times. She’s resigned herself from stairs. Grief, and in Arkansas, a dead dark sea of birds.

 

12.

We mark the edge of one of many circles. I try to tell my husband about my mother’s starling. He grips my hand, clamps in my sweat. I no longer want to listen. We’re on the backyard swing. We rock to the dying light. From an open window a phone rings, crying its bird-like cymbals. My mother’s hair zeroes the sky above us, our pores tingling. His other hand traces the hard vertebrae of my nape.

 

13.

What I want is for her roving eye to keep still.

 

Instead I mimic her voice, my throat heaving with trill.

 
Found In Volume 46, No. 05
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Sasha Pimentel
About the Author

Born in Manila and raised in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Sasha Pimentel is a Filipina poet and author of For Want of Water (Beacon Press), selected by Gregory Pardlo as a winner of the 2016 National Poetry Series, and Insides She Swallowed, winner of the 2011 American Book Award. She's an associate professor in the Bilingual (Spanish-English) MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso, on the border of Ciudad Juárez, México. These five poems are from For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017).