Visiting My Mother After Her Layoff by Erik Wilbur

Erik Wilbur has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2020 Poetry Contest

As she prepares a mirepoix
for the soup—her spine curled slightly
over the blade, over a chipped
laminate countertop—I consider
that a woman can only live for so long
like a stilt-house pillar in a flood.

Fuck the floods of her life:

. . . The flood of the drunk asleep
in her bed . . . The flood of her daughter
pawning heirlooms for drugs . . .

Silently, I curse the ones I know of
until the soup simmers. Then we sit
on the porch in metal patio chairs
and she smokes 27s as the sky turns
to bruised flame.
…………………………A bruise is a flood
beneath the skin. Here’s (at least)
the skin of how we became Arizonans:
my father is an alcoholic;
…………………………the coal-plant
offered on-the-job training; my mother—
the only female operator at MGS when she started—
took my sister and me over
Tehachapi Pass in a white Toyota Starlet.

As for the flame: when a wildfire
strips a mountain, years
of flooding will follow.
…………………………After the plant closed,
before imploding the boilers,
they toppled the stack. She showed me
a picture of it falling, spitting out
that last deluge of smoke
from the demolition blast.
…………………………A year later,
in a rented duplex, she straightens
her body to ladle soup from the pot.

And while we eat, she asks what I’ll do
after graduation.
…………………………You don’t have to know,
she says, but you can always
come home—

…………………………and in the ensuing silence,
I can tell she feels what I feel: the word
home becoming only a deep vowel sound
between us, the sound of anything at all
said underwater:
…………………………the flood I bring,
…………………………the flood I can’t stop.

old car with headlights on with desert background
Bodie Ghost Town by Purple Bullet. CC license.

Erik Wilbur
Erik Wilbur teaches writing at Mohave Community College in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. He is also the program director of Real Toads Poetry Society, a literary organization that provides opportunities for residents of Northwestern Arizona communities to learn about, experience, and share works of literary art. His work has recently appeared in The Southampton Review, New Ohio Review Online, and Aquifer. You can also find his recently-released chapbook What I Can Do on Amazon. Read more at Erikwilbur.com.

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