My mother in a rental van
idling in the Phoenix Airport parkade.
She does a word search, finds “tongue” “bitter”
“cochlea” lets a ballpoint pen tell her of her own
body. I tap the van window, see her face
for the first time in months. It’s been too hot,
she tells me, the swimming pool has lights
that change colour with a switch, the women
here are fabulous, they bleach their teeth, no one
holds their children’s hands, families travel
single-file. Arrived a week before me, my mother
is not yet relaxed. I’m sweaty, my back in knots
from trying to lean and sleep in the spleen of a plane.
Mum has sushi on ice for me, her love
on ice, already too sun-dead to say much
on the hour ride back. In our rental condo,
she fries ground turkey in a pan, confesses,
cries in the turkey, cries in the pan, says
this will be good, says the pool lights up, she feels
ugly here, she’d like to bleach her teeth,
but she’s afraid they’ll glow in the dark when
she opens her mouth to kiss my father. We leave
our dishes to soak, leave to hike
through hackberry trees in a man-made creek, roots
pricking our ankles, a bloody welcome
on our legs. The sun won’t set,
it makes the blood stick. I rinse off
in the pool, set the light to purple,
so the water looks rough,
the water looks bruised.
Mallory Tater is a writer from Ottawa pursuing her MFA in creative writing at UBC. Her work has been published in PRISM International, CV2, The Malahat Review, and Poetry is Dead. She was shortlisted for Arc Poem of the Year in 2015 and placed third for the Bristol Poetry Prize.