My mother's mouth was ugly,
her two fingers tweezing into the pocket
of my unfortunate green plaid shirt.
I stood frozen but for a twitch of my head
to avoid her hand: even its brush against my braid
would make me that much more involved.
The neatly folded check was a two-handed saw:
its rasp against the flannel as she withdrew it
echoed the grate of my father depositing it,
his own mouth twisted.
Not until I had shame to hide from my own daughter
did I recognize the shadow over his eyes.
I did not hear the teeth
of that finely perforated edge, catching
in the threadbare fibers of my heart,
until it whispered from the wireless static
behind my ex's phone message. His voice
is not more cordial than normal, as I first think:
it's compressed like a sentient wild Slinky.
He is restraining it from the glowing red gravity
of a staircase we've been down before.
His accusation falls open before me,
a yawning aperture of truth
into which I must fall, like the lemming
to the scourging sea: there is no escape
from what he says, from the middle
into which my mother has now placed my own daughter,
from the words her mouth has made, which must have begun
and I am falling through time,
the ugliness is upon me, a great crush
pain, rage, need, desperation
and I never connected the folded check
with the food stamps when I was eight
Heidi Kenyon is the retired co-founder of a cooking school, a former editor at the University of Idaho Press, and the mother of three. She lives in Seattle, Washington.