We pull our hands through the branches
loaded with what some call useless, not my mother and me,
she visiting for a week, still repeating the lost sheep story
her priest told at the last mass back home, not the only
parable she says I should know from parochial school.
I teach her to cut them up, even crabapples too small,
boil them up, heads that shrivel till the water
turns dark red. She asks what to do next
and I tell her, show her, feeling like I should be
listening instead. I hate my nephew's friend
who called my mother dumb, and know this isn't true
but she's more of a child than I thought
though not shrinking yet like her friends
or "out of it" like Helen in a home who
"has to be there: one day she woke up and didn't
know the stores on Broadway."
I still hold against her her history:
tearing my tie-dyed skirt in half, never
sticking up for me. So I refused to do dishes,
go to mass. We spoon the mush into our cloths, hang them,
and squeeze to collect our seven cups.
We wash our hands and go outside to wait an hour.
She wonders why the mountains are the way they are,
and when I answer earthquakes, wind, water,
She asks whether I believe in God anymore.
I don't answer. I smile—she thinks
I'm just going against her. But I wonder
about some strange faith we could belong to
where women too get their feet washed.
Lucky nighthawks dip over the walnuts, the apricot.
I have so much fruit here she says if she were here longer
we'd cook up everything. I get the pectin, the sugar,
we stir it in, and down, look at her second-hand,
spoon it out. She thought it was much easier
than this, making jelly.
Our lined-up jars look like hummingbird feeders.
Holding them to the window, we see through to our fingers.
Tomorrow we can make more, simple as going out to the trees
letting sweetness come down to us, taking in the full bowls.
I feel now, not like always, she'll outlive us all.
They can't stay away, each night
for presences in the cottonwoods
on this one last dark stretch by the river,
that hasn't been developed, or cut down
into fields. Their lives grown
into this ritual
now they're finally living alone:
they ride their bikes,
his with training wheels, down the dirt lane
beyond the old woman's log house,
her collie barking but never coming out
of the yard, and slowly wheel them
away from the trees they saw
the young perched in last.
The first time they were surprised—
something flew, strong and away
low to the field,
then the two above,
softer, letting them come close.
Tonight the boy looks for feathers,
and pellets to soak later—inside
he'll find maybe a mouse skull,
the foot of a skunk he still wants.
The bruises have now lost
their rings, she knows the owls
will go on: this is spring,
so these nights of pure blue and yellow
she comes back for the innocent
birds solid as cats,
blinking down at them, never moving off.
They never told anyone
in the trailer court about the beatings, the wings
from this one tree to the river,
or now the ones
they believe they must protect.
She used to pretend her husband
would appear out of the cleared brush,
with his camera, the boy's
telescope they sometimes forgot. Among
the pink tamaracks and the
shiny river and dusk, these young great
horned don't know enough yet
to move when humans come in.
She used to think her husband,
if he were fast, could snap the two
in the last sun.
Home, at the formica table
they watch pellets dissolve into fur and bone,
easy for them to believe
in the kindness of owls,
who force up so little of the living
they swallow whole.