I’d rather go blind, boy, than to watch you
walk away from me, Etta James argues,
then opens her eyes to applause.
I can see the 7 PM June moon, arrived
in daylight like a watermark, a photocopy
of a photocopy. All the blue spines
on the shelf behind me are the hours
my mother left—like all the books
advised. She slipped her arms
into the beige raincoat from the rack.
From the window, I saw headlights brighten
like the eyes of a cat. It was October then,
and she backed out of the long driveway.
I turned off the lamp so I could make out
her leaving. Behind me, the coat rack
stood taller than my father in the dark.
When Etta James sings about not wanting
to be free, she means she doesn’t want
to be alone. From my desk, I can see
dandelion seeds drifting like dandruff
from the sky’s blue hair. I can see a brown
patch where the grass refuses to grow.
The spines blue like a disparate sea,
and the artificial blue of a snow cone,
and cobalt marbles, and backyard pools
viewed from the aisle seat of a plane.
The singer pulls the microphone away
lets it drop to her side—continues to howl
without it. Her faraway scream paints
green hills curved with blue ribs, a still
life with dark plums, halved figs, a paring
knife, and bunches of purple grapes,
a portrait of not this loss but the first.
I can’t get over how memory is a kind
of seeing, like my four-year-old nephew
who rinsed a soiled paintbrush in water,
wagging it back and forth in the plastic
cup, turning the water electric blue,
pressing the brush’s short black bristles
into the white paper towel, staining it
wet and blue, trying to wipe the brush clean,
then dipping it right back into blue paint.
I waited like a father for my mother
to come home. Or fell asleep crying.
Or took her wet coat from the floor, where
she left it, and placed it back on the hook.
Tonight, my mother holds her bottom lid
like a long note, blinking the medicine in.
And something like scales fall. It’s getting
darker now—and cooler. The clock blinks.
To the ground, the sky lets fall its blue robe.