What I think about when I think about my mom

What I think about when I think about my mom:

Holly Salvatore

1. The bottoms of her feet fleshy and pink, cracked yellow heels, meeting deep dewy skin. I see my mother’s legs, long and muscular, propped on the railing of the porch. Everything is blooming. The bees are not all dead yet. Hummingbirds vibrate and shimmer through the porch shade, stopping at the feeder to drink sugar water for less than a second. They nest in the pear tree. My mother drinks a margarita. Her stomach is flat and she rolls up her shirt to collect the sunlight in the folds and creases of her skin. When she smiles, it’s her eyes.

She lets herself sweat, lets it roll down the backs of her arms, from her neck, from her chin. She lets herself drip into the garden bed and onto the stones. I imagine this rosebush then, grows accustomed to my mother’s taste.

I am picking raspberries to make a pie, but we eat them all before going inside.

My mother’s fingers, red and sticky. The hummingbirds watching. We eat in greedy handfuls and gulps like berries are breath and body for us.


2. The morning grayscale tone of her hollowed out cheeks.

My father has dressed her in a pink fleece zip up and soft flannel pants. She is wearing her slippers, lined with faux fur and a blue fleece beanie. Cushioned and insulated, nothing can touch her. The fabrics, my hands, a cup of tea, my father’s goodbye kiss — everything soft when everything hurts. My mother sniffles. She begins to leak. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I know what’s wrong. The thing that lives inside her chest banging and lunging to get out, the thing we don’t talk about. Her eroded lungs shake, and I remember she used to seem bigger. Now her edges blur and her arms fade into the couch. One collarbone peeping from her sweater as sharp as a dagger.

My mother’s palms are yellow-pink, her hands faded from tan to parchment, fingers long and slender with perfect, oval nails. Her hands are cold. My hands are cold.

Clear liquid snot and tears mix at her chin. I hold a tissue to my mother’s nose and instruct her to “blow.” Wipe her face while I fail to keep mine neutral. We do this again and again. When the knocking in her breath stops, I test her tea on the skin of my wrist, and ask if she wants some. I hold the mug to her mouth and she takes tiny sips, the muscles in her neck straining.

She is sorry, her eyes say.

I know.

Looking into blooms of soft, green lichen, lashes gone, eyebrows gone, looking into eyes that are alive in a body that is dying, I tell her that it will be OK.

The sun comes up. Maybe I’m not lying.


3. Red Lodge, Montana.

A woman is a hawk at rest, at any moment ready to take flight.

A woman in a cowboy hat and mauve puffy coat, too short, her slender talons show beneath the sleeves. Even sitting, she is long and tall, even blurred, she is happy. Evergreen and alpine flowers and soil — the scent she carries on the breeze as she circles above, riding air currents. To watch her dive fearlessly into a meadow is to know joy. To see her come up with a body in her claws is to know death.

Watch as she devours a snake.


My mother, the hawk, sits perched on the bumper of a beat up blazer, breathing easily and steadily in the early summer sun, full-bellied, clear-eyed. Less of a woman and more of a bird.

Holly Salvatore