POETRY: Three by Brad Richard
Zuihitsu of My Mother’s Breasts
As a child, I had nausea every time we drove back from a day of crabbing and fishing on the piers at Dauphin Island. The corn dogs I’d washed down with Fanta all day, the prickle of cracked vinyl on the back of my sunburned legs, the smell of Coppertone mingled with my parents’ cigarette smoke blowing with the salt breeze over me in the Rambler’s back seat — suddenly it would all turn my stomach upside down, in spite of the yellow Dramamine tablets my mother had given me.
Voyager 1 has now reached the heliopause. More accurately, as astronomers have learned from the data Voyager relayed, it has reached the “heliosheath depletion region,” a transitional place, still barely “in the sun’s magnetic embrace,” as the article tells me. Galactic particles from interstellar space bombard it as it makes its slow, plutonium-powered way where we will never go. I say all of this in present tense, although I am aware that by the time the data reached us, Voyager had long since moved on from where it had been. By now, it’s probably slipped, no, lurched free, unbound —
cold white sting of Solarcaine on sunburn: nothing could hurt us for long
The ashtray in my mother’s car is always full. When we leave for the store, she lights up in the driveway, the air-conditioner going full blast against the scorching central Texas heat.
All I remember of Büchner’s play Woyzeck: the grandmother’s black fairy tale about the orphan left all alone on the earth who went to the moon but it was rotten wood so he went to the sun but it was a withered sunflower and the stars were dead flies so he came back to the earth but it was an overturned pot so he sat down alone on it and cried and is crying still
every memory I’ve ever had: pulse from a dead star
She and I would walk the beach while my father surf-fished for flounder. We gathered scallop shells and sand dollars, but what I most enjoyed bringing home were the worn slips of sea glass, their muted greens and blues. Back home, she dropped some in my bath so I could see them regain their luster.
In 2011, as Voyager began its heliosheath exploration phase, my mother was again diagnosed with breast cancer; her first cancer, in 1983, was successfully treated with chemotherapy and radiation. This time it was not a recurrence but a new, very slow-growing cancer, also present in her lymph nodes. Because she had received such high doses of radiation previously, that treatment was no longer an option. She elected to have a double mastectomy.
Voyager’s last step before entering the heliosheath was passage through the termination shock, “an environment controlled by the Sun’s magnetic field with the plasma particles being dominated by those contained in the expanding supersonic solar wind.”
My mother’s chemotherapy seems to have been successful. Her hair has grown back. She misses her breasts; I miss her breasts. She hasn’t yet had her reconstructive surgery, and I’m doubtful that she will quit smoking long enough for the doctors to clear her for the procedure and the long recovery. When I see her, I can’t help looking at the flat fall of her clothing across her chest. When I think of her, I see the shape her breasts made in her blouse.
the net hauled up at the pier’s edge: crabs gnawing on chicken parts
Right after the grandmother’s tale, Woyzeck returns and talks to his wife, Marie:
Woyzeck: We’ve got to go Marie, it’s time.
Marie: Go where?
Woyzeck: Does it matter.
They go down the street.
My front porch is decorated with fossils my mother pulled from her yard, limestone trilobites and brachiopods slowly forced from the earth.
If Voyager 1 could feel, it would feel the interstellar winds.
Reruns & Premonitions of September, 1974
Hi-jinks and laugh-tracks afternoons after school
in the den with Chris, my college student babysitter,
snacking in the glow of his parents’ black & white TV:
Star Trek, Gilligan, Munsters,
ghosts stranded in backlot galaxies,
like me haunting this childhood scene.
Chris props a sketchpad on his lap, sketches
unpeopled mountain landscapes, picks
with a thumbnail at scabs of paint on his hands.
Slouched outside the sliding door: a shaggy mimosa
frilled with frilly blooms, starburst-clustered gold-tipped stamens.
A game: we palm-roll slices of white bread
into fleshy balls, see who can roll the biggest
and pop the pale glob whole into his mouth.
I chew and fidget, stretch my hand to fumble
in the bread bag between us: just a heel; my luck.
Sun low in the mimosa; glare sliding in; dim shapes
creep across the screen, and turpentine and sweat
drift from Chris’ body to my nose, my thigh
twitching near his — won’t he ever lean over
and croon to me oh little buddy, little buddy — ?
Captain’s log: under the yard, the house,
the day, a world ends: mimosa roots
slo-mo strangling pipes, cracking slab…
My ship at warp speed vanishing,
our bodies shimmying into vapor,
I beam back to this abandoned den,
too late: nothing to eat, nothing on TV,
just speckles of starlight (oh spectacles yet
unseen here). I’ll get by. I’ve gotten by on less.