“Non saperlo per te, pei tuoi puri occhi
—Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Again, my false mother of verbena is singing
The aria that I’ll recite as if I’m a natural
Child among night flowers opening their dark eyes to the moon
Not a mother to the ocean that bears its resemblance
Like a floating summer barge. Again, I am sinking into her
Hazardous silks of caged birds and mute crickets, into her
Televised longing for smoke stacks and flags, into her image
Painted on to a soprano’s face, into her vermilion
Folds in which are sealed the purposes, provisional
Names for my hands dragging a brass opener through wax.
The dream drips on to the table, makes new forms
All scraped and discarded. Beginning is always a problem
When toenail, strand of hair, some notes
Scribbled by a social worker in a code familiar as skin:
Where is my baby? Is my baby hungry?
Does she mourn as I do? Is this loss or libretto?
What is our contract, if there is blood between us? Have I the right
To scabs picked off for pink underneath, little shutters opened to let in air,
The pure music. It is raw in there. I am guessing
An alcove to grieve among robes embroidered with cherry blossoms,
Gion festival wagons, cranes returning to a patch of silver at the breast,
Leave-taking. Every sleeve, myth. Every hem, a crossing
Guarded by dust, dry creek beds, buffalo grass, sky like a kiln.
Not the blue heat, but the orange as in tiger lily, the yellow foxglove
Seed ground into the heart’s medicine to quicken
In want of a memory. I was 10, a watcher of things winged,
PBS, Sunday Afternoon at the Met, Levine conducting.
Plastic swatter in hand. My palms pressed against the hot glass to get through.
Windows of my parents’ living room covered with damask.
I imagined she called to me, non saperlo . . . per te, across a sea
Of bad reception. I did not see myself but heard the scattered humming of flies.
I studied the white parts squirming out of their black, mashed bellies
In wonder of death. Still, a birth through the wound
Willed by itself. Why else such a distance crossed from its mother
Lying on the wood, her ash veil falling away?
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
“Libretto” is from Paper Pavilion (White Pine Press 2007).