POETRY December 4, 2020

Elegy for the Four Chambers of My Mother’s Heart


You’re just barely making it now
to the microwave. Your knees,

they tremble, Mom, like a fresh fawn.
The beginning of life is too much

like the end of it. You pinch the seam
of a bag of popcorn, swaddle it

like a steaming newborn within the basket
of your walker. Did you know, you ask,

that Orville Redenbacher died sleeping
in a jacuzzi? That’s how I want to go.


As a child you made me hold my breath
driving past cemeteries, under bridges,
through tunnels. We gasped for air

like superstitious carp, tiptoed
around grave plots to honor the dead,
leaped over sidewalk cracks to honor

the living: our mothers, you. You ratchet
the bare ball of your foot into each seam
as if it were the cherry end of a cigarette.

As if you could design a future for yourself,
trade chemotherapy for a chiropractor.
On that last flight to see you, the pilot said

if you insist on smoking, please do it outside.
At the Olive Garden off Sable Boulevard,
you joke: when you’re here, your family

is dying. We push yardsticks of bread down
our trombone throats, wonder how
to prolong a meal that must end.


In Colorado, you work nights
at a call center from your

kitchen table. You swore once
you sold camping gear

to Matthew McConaughey,
kept his credit card number

for a rainy day. The graveyard
shift should be illegal, I joke.

You throw your head
back in laughter, like a villain

might in a Disney movie—
Ursulaesque. You say dying

doesn’t keep the lights on,
the water heater drooling

in its sarcophagus closet.
But you’re off tonight.

You get to sleep in the dark,
like regular people, you say.


This is an elegy, and believe me it will end
within the small walls of your townhome.

And because I am selfish it ends with your
words and a memory of just you and me

standing above your kitchen sink, pouring
water into an ice cube tray. You tell me

to watch as the water fills up one corner,
then overflows into every empty square.

This, you say, this is how I love you.

Steven Espada Dawson is a writer from East Los Angeles, now working out of Austin, Texas. The son of a Mexican immigrant, his poems appear/appear soon in The Adroit Journal, Copper Nickel, Hobart, New Ohio Review, THRUSH, and the Best New Poets (2020) anthology.