I sit on the steps in the dark
inhaling bee balm, peppermint, echinacea.
Night wind carries the odors of earth and rain.
If I lit a cigarette now I would enter the story
my oldest daughter wrote and gave me to read last week,
“The Scent of Rain and Tobacco,” in which the heroine
falls in love with the corn she’s planted in her farmer
husband’s field. Later he will be her sacrifice. Or I would re-enter
a self decades younger, newly married, and trying to quit.
Yesterday she drove back to college sobbing
my mother is a bitch. Must’ve been something I said
about the story. Listen. She wanted me to listen, she said.
But I can barely hear myself these days. Even sitting here,
Next to soil and decaying leaves stirred by the breeze,
I don’t know what or who to listen for. How do I make space
for both of us? She dares me to live a self I’ve long ago discarded.
C’mon, Mom, have a smoke, she taunted in Paris last year, a trip for just
the two of us. You know you want one. Instead I set my lips
like my own mother did. I still remember the thin raspberry line
as she sat across from me, more than half a lifetime ago,
daydreaming out the train window on our way to Philadelphia,
amethyst earrings dangling from beneath her smooth brown hair.
She had transformed herself for an outing with me–my father detested
lipstick. Her powder was too pale, the fur collar of her coat too black.
Was she remembering her art school days, or something
my father had said that just wouldn’t settle. I didn’t ask.
I already knew she wanted things she never got.
She stewed inside herself, making peace. I would not settle
ever, I thought, for a life that would make my mouth narrow.
Now I know more than I ever wanted to about that. And my daughter
demands from me a self. It’s been halved and halved again in the mitosis
of mothering. Selves swarm above the blossoms,
medicinal roots send forth new shoots into the night air.