Baby doll dressed in lace cap
and ruffled arms, someone
pressed a pouty chin and high cheeks
in your face. Left you
in the attic until
the dog scratched on the stairs.
With wagging tail and back-swept grin
he saved you, dragged from grandma’s trunk.
You were supposed to teach girls
to stroller strut, boys
the lemonade swoon.
Over the years your eyes
rolled up in your head,
hair fell off.
For the tiny coffin, they repainted
your cheeks. Grandma couldn’t remember
who made you, whose belly
stretched daily over the sink,
whose fingers pushed your hard arms
into their final, lasting sleeves.
If you wonder why six women
pose in black gowns with some relief
of lace or jewel at the neck,
look in their faces: down-turned mouths,
staring eyes. The mothers behind
have fostered the daughters in front.
Fatherhood forgotten, they perch
with black birds at gravesites.
They ride the unsteady roofs
of houses in flood. Their skirts
shelter fears of dust
driven through walls to settle
a pall on clean linen,
grit in the mouth.
A descendant stoops to wipe
dirt from the floor.
Her baby cries. Vapor fills
rooms with their unmistakable
hands, clenching, relaxing.
They have collected buttons and string,
shards of skirts and apron
until their names are sewn crazy
across fields. I have known
six women to spend
hundreds of stitches
on a quilt that went to warm
a tractor in winter.