Rachel Elizabeth Griffiths
I am here before the nurse brings my mother breakfast.
I study her body. Try to remember if I caught my mother
in the dream I had the night before where the hem of her
gown flew through a silver tunnel without end. Her skin
went right through my hands whenever I was close enough
to save her. She slipped through her name, her name I could not stop
calling until I sat up alone in my crib. Embarrassed, she tells me
she remembers how she phoned me last night to let me know
she was in the morgue. She laughs as the nurse, whose feet squeak
in Minnie Mouse Crocs, arrives with tea. We watch the nurse
with eyes that will never remember her face. Thank her
for the toast that is thicker than my mother’s hand.
That morphine is some powerful shit, my mother says.
I agree with her as though she has merely mentioned it is cold
outside though I have rarely had morphine &
have never made courtesy calls from a morgue. It was late
& I didn’t know where I was, she says. Because that wasn’t death,
which means I couldn’t have called you from that place.
This is my new mother who has finally admitted fear
into the raw ward of her heart. This is my mother who flew away
from my grasp in the tunnel without end. The woman
who could not wait for me to grab the white edge
of where she was going. I was afraid, she says. Looking
over the rim of her plastic cup, she shakes the world. Chipped
ice between us. Yeah don’t go & write about me like that,
she says. I already know you will.
-from Seeing the Body: Poems. Copyright © 2020 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths, selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Woman and The Branch
I knew. I knew. My mother gave me
her bluebird of happiness. Carrying the
glass inside my skin to school, I was
Show us what you have, the world
said. I was polishing somebody’s
It wasn’t mine. Not my
paradise or my mother’s love,
but oh god how it shone. I
could never tell
which bird was singing. I went home
like a canticle to its branch. I flew
through gray leaves away from
childhood. I gave my mother answers I
knew, didn’t ask whether there was another
color— was blue right. after all? Was
a song to be shattered?
I couldn’t explain the frailty,
how the figurine had cracked
when I looked through its life.
July 13, 1954
“I live on air, accepting things as they come.”
Because you sat upright, not yet
ash. Already myth, yes,
already. Spine broken into bone silence.
You sat upright near fire,
preparing as the phoenix must
gather her fires to die. Lady
Lazarus whispering inside your
Fitting the body into lightning,
the faces, painted &
a furnace of dreams wait in paradise.
Because we gathered around your
ribs, your hundreds of convex
& dignities. Near the immortal needle
of desire you’ll twist perpetually,
out of reach in paint, pleasure.
Blazing, your night hair & soft
bones descend through the
canopy to kiss your coverlet of
I never write an elegy for you, Frida.
But once in late spring I lingered
in a sky of laments
at the top of the stairs in your house.
The last room. On the last day
a young man with eyes like burning
told me She is still here, he said,
pointing out the urn, shaped & brown
like a humble creature of the earth,
glazed by the hands of a tarnish
that glazes anything worthwhile. Animal, which?
Pre-Columbian, two clay arms
extended to hold your fatted death &
I don’t always tell where
she is, he said in Spanish, his
voice splitting like a fruit. Frida,
there is a death mask of your
face on the canopied bed.
Above, God waits like a mirror.
In the corner the painted leg in
its red boot waiting to dance.
I am talking to you,
& my deaths in your name.
| dear America
I pick you up
& you are a child made of
longing clasped to my neck.
Iridescent, lovely, your
I carry you back & forth
from the famine in your mind.
Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.
Speak now, the static says.
A half-dressed woman named
Truth tells me she is a radio.
I’m going to ignore happiness
I’m going to undo myself
I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.
No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.
Light keens for the
dead. & I’m troubled
by my own blind touch.
Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?
You don’t feel anything
in the middle of the night
-from Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books 2015), selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is the author of five collections of poetry, including Lighting the Shadow. Her literary and visual work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.