A Word Like Rat
My Aunt Sandra—a large woman,
a holy woman, maybe you can see her—
quilted housecoat, just-washed auburn hair
past her waist when she tips her head, heavy
to the side, and pulls wet strands over one shoulder,
both hands working to brush and smooth.
Then, collecting the hairs from her brush,
rolling them between her fingers, her palms,
saving and adding until all the fallen hair
becomes one firm oval that she called a rat. Once,
she let me touch it before she pinned it underneath a hank
gathered at her crown and wound around a tress
to make a bun. I want a secret like that one.
One you can hold, give shape to, crush. One
you can burn to cleanse the room of your heart.
I want a word that means this secret and
the thing it takes its name from
like Aunt Sandra's rat, a rat, with teeth, a tail,
a regular word, so that if we met for coffee
and you said, Are you ok, I could say,
All summer, I have been thinking of blank, of spoon
which would mean the way my father died
alone, how my mother knew it was better that way,
how I had wanted to look him up
but never did. You could tell me whether
to put this spoon on a shelf or carry it with me.
This poem has also been published in The Greensboro Review.