by NICK LANTZ
A few hours before her best friend
died, my mother pulled
back his blanket and took
a photograph of his naked body.
They’d traveled together to Crete,
gotten stoned in a two-room apartment
above a bar in Illinois, cooked the same
beef stew a hundred times
over twenty years, always my mother chopping
onions, him stirring the pot—a big black pot
they’d brought during their escape
from the Midwest to California.
The photo—lesions on his thighs,
his muscles carved out of him, mouth
already the slack O of morphine.
She developed the film herself
in the darkroom she’d built
at the back of our house,
where she’d taught me how to wait
in darkness as an image bloomed
to life on a white sheet of paper.
She hung the photo in her office
on the wall behind her desk
for almost a year, and I hated
to go in there, to see his body
whittled down and bared.
But it was my mother
who taught me how to write
poems without meaning to,
every time she stopped
to photograph a house
burned in a fire, a pair of twisted
hands spray-painted on a wall.
After storms, she would walk
the neighborhood and collect
the empty bird nests blown
out of the trees—enough to fill
a bookcase as tall as me.
And when I had my own cancer,
she flew out to Texas, cooked stew
in my kitchen. And because I knew
she wanted to but would not ask, I offered—
lifted my shirt to show the line
of staples holding my abdomen
together, said, “Go on, take it.”