Kelly Grace Thomas is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and 2016 Fellow for the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. Kelly’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the following journals: Sixth Finch, Muzzle, Rattle, PANK, decomP, Rust + Moth, Spry, Crab Creek Review and more. Her poem the “The Politics of Scent” was a named a semifinalist for the Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest. Kelly also works to bring poetry to unserved youth as the Manager of Education and Pedagogy for Get Lit-Words Ignite. She lives Los Angeles and is working her debut novel Only 10,001. For more of her work, visit www.kellygracethomas.com
Be skin, transparent as an apology
Be wedding china. Be basement or bassinet
Be the pinch of prayers between shoulders
Be blanched in black blue of midnight
Be every ocean, emptying into drains
Be downstream a tuna laced in mercury
Be hook and bait and too much boat
Be part stomach, part swallow
Be the fireline or blanket
Be amazing grace/a hymn, a history, a hurt
Be a mother’s grief Be the song singing empty
bedrooms to sleep Be forgetting
Be knowing the second story father built
another house, another woman
when the dinner table got bigger
Be long necked swans, turning black
against night sky
Be the exhale of ellipses Be holding open doors
Be hands or fingers that runs all this touch
over the hungry
hysteria of bones
Be all this birth
Be black lace
Be blame and bloat
Be born to this
and let it breathe
Be anything with arms
Be an altar made smoke
Told stay home
Told pretty burn too bright,
they call it arson
How My Mother (Almost) Died
Maybe it started with the cracking of her ribs, like the breaking of birdhouses made from popsicle sticks. There was anesthesia and surgical masks. There was a man in a white lab coat trying to bring her back. There were daughters from California, who sat next to her hospital bed like patient ferns, hoping to share their oxygen.
Or maybe it was the Christmas her eyes became frighten owls in a foreign forrest. Her hands shaky as windchimes. She had always loved the holidays, always decorated the house before our visit. She whispered something’s very wrong, holding the undercooked turkey.
Or maybe it was when her handwriting changed. On the Valentine’s card she sent me, I spotted the tremor in her g’s, the fractures of her s’s. She, a shattered alphabet. Maybe it was when she looked in the mirror and only saw her own mother’s paper skin.
Or maybe it was at her father’s funeral. Her lips a padlock, she placed in the coffin. A dying secret she palmed into a stiff, granite hand. A violin chord before the black veils and loose dirt.
Or maybe it started at her child’s fifth birthday, with that third piece of cake. The colorful icing and sugared roses that never wilt. The way taste can lurk as understudy, practicing its lines for lonely lips.
Or maybe it was when her husband left. When he said, it’s over, no more, as casually as one would say after finishing a meal. Leaving his two daughters silent at the dinner table. Leaving the knife still dirty on the plate.
Reasons I Haven’t Done the Dishes
Because what can compete with a dying mother.
Because that tide has been rising.
Because there are so many ways to be a glass of water.
Because people don’t know how to say I know this is hard
when this is hard is hard to say.
Because no matter what mood I wore to dinner,
I need you to still be here.
Because I feel sorry for myself in bubble baths.
Because I’ve spent my life barking.
Because there are still wounds to lick that no one can hear.
Because I wonder how you miss me.
Because I live in Los Angeles where the coyotes are getting hit by cars.
Because the mountains are moving closer.
Because this soft, wet animal is something I’m not.
Because I am ugly and frightened at the watering hole.
Because I don’t like asking to be fed.
(Author photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)