Yesterday my mother feeling old curled
under sheets and a few strands of hair
eased into softness with her body, her breath.
I am not in San Francisco, but I know my mother.
She wants to get back to work, at seventy, part-time.
Roll under and through the Bay Bridge and drive
to Fairfield where an oak tree's twisted roots bore
into yellow hills. An examiner for the State Board
of Cosmetology, she will watch the new girls mix
Miss Clairol 28 D and clear stabilized liquid developer,
make certain the proportions add up to autumn mist,
golden highlights through a cascade of brown. Until then,
she's been cleaning house. An anomaly for this woman
who stood on the rim of Kilauea, a lake of molten lava,
on her one and only vacation, then came home
to Julie, Kathy, and me slapping a whirlwind of dust
from the battered armrest of a hunter green couch.
We hee-hawed and laughed in a twilight cloud
until Eric called and we washed the settled dust off our hands.
Maybe we went to a movie or the pier. Corn on the cob,
clam chowder and seagulls. A store that sold kites. Pearls
pried from oysters. A Jazz band on the second floor.
That's what children are good for. I love her
and I've left her, but I haven't. She's the one
who allows me to understand tai chi, not the class
in a freshly painted studio that once was a sweat shop,
but Teresa, Margarita, and Louisa sewing. Machines
humming under an asbestos heating duct. Wedding veils.
Embroidered designer jeans. A fan in the window. My mother
straight from Nicaragua, did not know how to sew,
but she could stand in line with her hair held in black netting,
slide hot cross buns into white boxes. Embedded between
wooden planks of the tai chi studio floor are stray needles.
Those women who went home on the 14 Mission para un plato
de frijoles, tortillas y algo más. Something more.
A black shoe lifted quiet and low.