There remain some black and white photos
of my mama, snapped the August she left
for college. She’s wearing a dark, long-sleeved
velvet dress, half an oval cut between
the shoulders, showing her clavicle.
The shoot ensued at the eastern skirts
of some woods, light leaking through the leaves.
In my favorite of these frames, she’s looking
to her right, her face and eyes bearing a fierce
vulnerability. She was soon to begin
studying acting—at a school with touted
teachers, a city with buildings that took
steel bites of sky. In this shot, she peers
off-camera as if, at sixteen, she already sees
the brutal plentitudes waiting to break her.
I stood in my underwear, the iron
clicking toward readiness. In yesterday’s
slacks and wife-beater, my dad smoothed a leg
of my Lees on the timeworn pressing-board.
Steam seeped between the denim and metal.
I dressed, the clothes warm as a second flesh,
my dad finding some duct tape, wrapping his hand
tacky side out. He patted lint from my chest
and shoulders; my kidneys echoed when he tapped
my back. I left for a day of first grade, light
sliding into our slim street like a blade
into a sheathe, my dad ironing his own clothes
before once more entering a town
keen at cutting the wrong men down.