Visiting My Mother

Here are the embroidered guest towels,
here the separate coffee maker, here

the candies I liked thirty years ago.
She slips me cash to pay for groceries—

yogurt, juice, bananas, a cold six-pack—
I picked up for myself. She wears the pin

I gave her for Christmas, wears her birthday earrings.
The thermostat is set at 76.

I read a book, then another book.
Tacky landscape paintings hang crooked.

I snap at them and her garish figurines,
post them, tweet them, earn a lot of likes.

She’s hesitant to ask about my life,
so she complains about the weather, traffic,

Skipping a Friend’s Barbecue Because the Invitation Said “Family Friendly”

Which means there will be screaming, normal kid
screaming, not pain or fear screaming, just
running screaming, running with a stick

screaming, running with a barbecue fork
screaming, oops there’s the pain screaming,
and now there are tears and blood beads

on a knee and other fluids tragically leaking.
I’d have to wade through to reach the adults
sipping beers around the grill and talking

about, of course, the children— that’s been the topic
all day, their latest allergies and scrapes,
vacation ER waiting rooms, casts

Big Mary: How to Hang an Elephant

Erwin, Tennessee 1916

Deny that it must be killed. Deny you could,
even if you wished, without a gun
large enough. Your name is Charlie Sparks.
You own the circus and the piece of flesh
called Mary, worth eight thousand dollars.

Call for execution. Call for justice.
You are the town of Kingsport, witnesses
to the elephant parade down Center Street,
when Mary snatched the trainer from her back
and tossed him carelessly, like a handkerchief,
into the wooden stands. You heard the crunch
when her great foot stepped upon his head.
Since then, the sight of ripe watermelons,
your summer favorite, makes you sick as sin.
Still, you packed the circus tents that night!