Bruce Davidson / Magnum

All My Mothers

A poem for Sunday

live in an alley
at the back of a lawmaker’s mind.

A mind with no imagination

for our reality, they say. With teeth
rowed like cigarettes, factory still,

my mothers sweat through a week
of soil on their skin,
unconcerned with grace.

One has grace and a gold tooth,
a tiny heart etched in the middle.

One knows a key ingredient of beauty
is sorrow.

Oven burns cross their wrists.
Fingers calloused from hot plates.
My mother’s Marcel curl

every Sunday in the alto section,
her tired face holding down the tenor of

a precarious song. I have

many mothers, you see? Some gone on
but still sitting at the bus stop
as their half-life selves

waiting on the city

to carry them to work.
The jealous mourning dove
holding territory above

the shelter haunts my mothers—

one calls him worse-um,
one has no insurance

and a persistent cough, sitting in the back
of a doctor’s mind. She says he has

no imagination to offer. No way out of no way.

She hopes that doctor knows there is no way
to distance ourselves
in a one-room house. My mothers think

these well-to-dos ain’t too well.