It was the year before your diagnosis.
We were more like lovers
than mother and daughter,
soaking up the last vacation in health.
We hiked the muddy path
along Lough Corrib,
ducking beneath dripping
hydrangeas bunched tight
as angels’ heads.
We passed ferns alive with holy water,
stumbled over rocks jeweled
by mocking sun, past a stone
house blistering with stone flowers.
The lone amaranth attracted a lone moth.
Tiny isles floated in the nutmeg meadows
studded with cedar and oak.
The B&B advertised a rope swing.
In the octagonal bedroom
I dressed behind
a stack of museum hat
boxes that teetered inhospitably.
You studied me in the murky
waves of the smudged mirror,
fearing finding yourself
in an impenetrable forest of glass.
You touched your breast
as if checking your pulse.
But who could mistake your
chestnut hair curled about your neck,
or your cranberry lips, the only fruit
in painted winter,
with my pink pallor itched
raw from picnic chiggers,
the bare sun scissoring a line
down my skull?
Everything aimed to go off.
You were shackled to a single cigarette--
unlit—it neither lent
nor took breath
but I can still see it
hovering there, scoffed with meaning.
In the end, a cracked tea chest
unfolds like a map I move across,
boyfriend-blighted, raw in the dovecote.
Your threadbare lingerie I starve to wear,
a chunk of gold strapped to my breast.
You have completely disappeared,
although still you float.
In all waters I reflect you—
you wade and wave, unfading,
like an amaranth
beheaded by pondweed,
like you held me, as a child,
on the boat in the green bay
while I drifted on your stone lap,
a mask of smeared spaghetti
on my face.
Ellen Elder earned her Ph.D. from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Recent poetry is online at Exquisite Corpse and disquieting muses quarterly and is forthcoming in The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems. She lives in Cincinnati.