Her upstairs flat smelled like spray starch
and the skin of her upper arms, filigreed
with thin purple veins, flapped
when she raised them. She scared me
and she liked me. I don’t know why.
Her emphysema was ferocious,
so she would send me to the corner store
for her smokes and a can of soup.
In photos on her walls, she was a young,
vibrant woman singing into a microphone.
Now she ironed shirts for single men.
The story: she had left some place else
a husband and a son. I wanted to know:
Could a mother really leave her only one?
I guess so. Sometimes, late at night,
I’d awake to the drone of engines
and flashes of red and blue light
beating at my bedroom window.
She had called the firemen again
to bring her back with oxygen.