Something Forced

Benjamin S. Grossberg

the amaryllis bulb. That’s the verb we use:
forced it, its petals just one shade
more pleasing than blood. Do I mention

the year it lay dormant, or the spears’
thin green arrowheads, their announcement—
why not my mother’s exhalation

beneath the pot, her ghostly avatar opening
its chalk line of a mouth, expelling what was once
breath into the bulb’s white fist, coaxing

it open? And Dan—two dates in—
loved me. Briefly. Her entering him, too,
parting his shoulder blades like curtains, reaching

a vapor hand, finding and soothing the contours
of his heart like water running over clay: making
slip—that’s the word, clay and its

diluted self, rounding, softening edges. The week
he loved me was good. If my mother’s soul
couldn’t do more than that, well, she got

the vessel turning. It wasn’t unreasonable
to expect me to do the rest. What the cat sees
in her cat-staring? Something, certainly—

don’t you, cat? Or hears, one ear rotating
outward, body otherwise still in a still
room. If I don’t move—not even a breath—

that balance keeps: everything still but whisker
and soul dragging the gray lace of itself
across hardwood floors. When I told my mother

I’d bought acreage out in Ohio, she raised
an eyebrow and said, I can’t see you as much
of a farmer. I guess we never had much

faith in each other. How can you see me, Ma?
Hard as I try, I can’t see her as a soul. Not
some white transparence brushing

my cheeks. Silly me, thinking it the new
salve, Metrogel, finally clearing the rosacea
she and I shared on our similar faces. Anyway,

why would she look so closely after me
in death, when, in life, she never had?
When all she’d done—and in a selfish way,

a mostly selfish way—was love me?

Benjamin S. Grossberg is director of creative writing at the University of Hartford. His books include Space Traveler (2014) and Sweet Core Orchard (2009). His new collection, My Husband Would, will be published this fall.
Originally published:
April 1, 2019


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