Warm and soft. I’m inside the warm and soft. Mother’s hand is moving over me in smooth after smooth. It’s a round feeling. It’s a yawn of falling inside. Mother’s hand has a rhythm like rocking. I don’t know what goes up and down and what presses, only it’s warm. Mother makes a breeze in my nose. The breeze is sweet and heavy. I want more. I want it, but it comes and goes, like her hand. All of this is to say I remember how mother untied my bonnet, stroked my hair, how she tucked a lavender heart pillow where I lay my head. Only later could I say, This happened. Only after we cut long stalks, tied them to rafters to dry upside-down, crushed flowers from stems with a rolling pin to fill sachets with the scent of sleeping. One day, stitching lace to heart’s rim, I had a moment of Oh!: mother’s touch, the lull and lure of drowse, me so little in the cradle I couldn’t know the strange smell’s source. And if I saw something as a baby, it was the same as the singing inside. And if I heard singing, it was as one hears in a dream, a song from faraway, a surge of tides, warm water washing the dreamer the way dusk dims the purple gardens glazing the hills. Mother, lover: lave-moi comme les fleurs ont lavé mes sens. Teach me to bathe in such beauty—
Do you see? If you don’t force it, it will come, rising as tender shoots of asparagus rose from their crown of roots in spring, each stiff shaft bearing a purpled tip. Mornings, Papa would clip them from their haze of fern, these myriad scepters of an infant king. Do you see? I was a good girl. I never thought twice about growth that spiked through earth like—I was a good girl, helped my father rinse spears with ice, pack them in crates for market. Out in groves where plants pried themselves shyly forth in shade, my sister and I listened to warblers trill, got dizzy from their gazouillis, conjured nests from trees that shook with song. At night when he’d take us, first me and then her, upon his lap—jiggle, jiggle, we’d jerk to his rhythm—we thought nothing of the club in his pants, except—God’s rod and His staff; His seed breeding from the soil each green thing; the asparagus swelling with the season. A good girl. Eating them steamed and served with sauce hollandaise, unbothered by the stink in my piss. And when I became a bad girl, woe betide me if I looked back on the vagrant vegetable lifting skyward its face like a scaly glans. Woe betide me if I thought Papa’s penis brought the pleasure of God’s good pageantry—
Gillian Cummings' poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boulevard, Colorado Review, The Cream City Review, Denver Quarterly, Front Porch Journal, PANK and other journals. Her chapbook, Spirits of the Humid Cloud, was released last August by dancing girl press. She currently teaches poetry workshops at a hospital and is also a visual artist.