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The shade pull grazed liniment bottles on the window ledge. Moonflowers blossomed on the porch. I massaged Mother's back Between dusk and dawn, pain stretched from the small of her back around her hips and down her thighs until her every move ached. I fluffed feather pillows as she shifted, gingerly, trying to nestle, but the mattress dipped where she most needed support; the sickbed whined stiffly as she cried out in her sleep. Her pain was more than I could bear, so I piled linens, shirts, and house dresses in a willow basket and ironed all night.

Earlier, on tiptoes, clothespins between my lips, I had reached for the fine and felt as if wind could carry me to that river she longed to cross. Sheets rippled in the morning breeze. By noon though, the devil was beating his wife; but instead of weeping, she laughed a shower in the sun. Damp, hastily folded sheets billowed in my basket as if storm clouds. An evening's worth of ironing. My weary forearm weighed down on the crumpled cotton, pushed the iron faster, faster across the shaky board, past my tense gut as night wore on.

Each time Mother groaned, sweat beaded on my upper lip and heat engulfed me, though I had stripped to my slip and a fan hummed on the kitchen table. After each moan came a labored sigh, a breath I held until her snoring recommenced or the quilt rustled against her restless body. I parted the cafe curtains and peered at the moon. In the cupboard was a jar containing herbs, roots, two glass beads and a brass charm-- a cure guaranteed, if the root doctor was to be believed, to cast out demons.

I measured the last dose of elixir, shakily spooned it to Mother's parched lips. While she begged the Lord for mercy, I served her weak tea. A deaconess called with tater pie, pound cake, and regards from the Pink Rose Circle. She joined a neighbor at the bedside. The two prayed, one after the other, then in unison, voices hushed, hands joined, as their mouthings bounded off walls and whirled a halo above Mother's bed. Later, the voodoo lady returned with a dead rattler in a burlap sack. Dig a hole half as deep as your fear; empty the sack and cover the serpent with dirt. Then spit twice. As the moon wanes, so will the sickness. From then on, my vigil was not at Mother's bedside but at the back door, where I plotted the moon's phases on a calendar from Lofton's Funeral Home. Four more days. The iron skimmed the crinkled sheets until her wail stilled me and made even steam seem heavy. Though my arm had braced her shuffle for weeks, at that instant I could not lift the iron. The scorched sheet, a wooden boat in a sea of white hot pain. If only Mother would rise, see the wrinkles that I pressed, the stains I set, and fill the house with shrill hymns.
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Title Annotation:Women's Culture Issue; poem
Author:Weatherford, Carole Boston
Publication:African American Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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