Mother's Favorite Drawing

I am with her when she sees the drawing

at the gift shop after I drag her through the Met—

a 12-year-old teaching his mother about the great things

in New York besides Ellis Island.

It’s the Käthe Kollwitz of a woman clutching

her child—my mother interrogating the child’s eyes

for something familiar: the shadow of an old man just before

the dreamer awakens, pattern of a favorite school dress,

the arc of a uniformed arm before it smacks her in the head,

color of the suitcase her father lifts off the floor.

Mother never buys on impulse but doesn’t hesitate—

she even gets it matted and framed in brass

and we carry it home on the #4 bus, Mother gripping the bar

with one hand, the picture secured between her legs.

Back in our building, the elevator broken as usual,

we carry the picture up four floors

past other apartments also filled with survivors,

walls bare as ours, and before we take off our coats

Mother wants to hang it over her bed in a spot

framed now by the shadow of the fire escape,

the steps and ladder imposed over mother and child

bracing them forever in flight.


Winner, Honorable Mention, San Francisco Book Festival