After Mary Ellen Mark
At the Alano Club, a child of seven, I remember
my mother sharing with a group of strangers
and family that the great thing about memory
is that it exists outside of time – no
beginning, no end – and that this was the kind
of miracle she loved to chase, to exist
and not exist on that thin line of oblivion.
You can trace the paths she’d take to discover
and rediscover this liminal space; prayers
far from her chapped lips; her Kadesh tongue, dry
and cracked and bleeding; her solferino
arm hidden beneath bandages, a veiled playground
for the clumsy; her eyes – a beautifully vast
sky blue – swollen and glassy with obsession.
Her stint at Saint Clément’s Drug Unit – sober
life adjudicated shortly after my birth – for users
racing slowly to their finish lines, desperate for history
and its repetitions, who know the domino
will fall regardless of being pushed, who traded garland
for rope, spoon, needle, some cotton – was fast,
lasting one month until she properly marked the occasion.
At the Alano club, a child of seven, I remember
the furtive glances to the back room, strangers
handing off bindles, the tinfoil seared in my memory,
and how my mother held up her hand – no
she held up one finger – a signal to her family – her kind,
her chosen kin – that she would rather exist
not with me, but in Lethe, consigned forever to oblivion.
Jonathan Callies earned his Bachelor’s Degree in English literature from UCLA and his Master’s Degree in English literature from the University of Chicago. His poetry has appeared in ARDOR Literary Magazine, Josephine Quarterly, Snarl, and others. He currently works at Michigan State University.