My mother stands before the white heat, but for her
it is more Cagney
than Dickinson, sweat
and a tray of pills, cable, that good son
on a tower of fuel
calling out to his ma.
I’m all undercover,
Edmund O’Brien working his prison con.
For her part, she can recall the exact evening
when she first saw the film,
what she wore, what she ate, what the air was like
on the walk home.
The camera swings—
she waves a bruised arm, points
at Virginia Mayo,
B actress, moll,
shouts Danny Kaye—Walter Mitty.
Pulls her top down
to reveal where the quivering substance plays—
hammer poised to jolt her heart
should that muscle fail.
It’s a good
she runs her fingertip into, its zippered Braille.
ends. The mother’s dead,
the aftermath a rush of memory
All those schoolgirl lessons coming back
in the curve of
her hands, the shape
of her back—
1949, ’52, my difficult
my living almost kills her. She
listen. The hammers’
finer forge refines the melody—a pile of din and flame.