Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook The Belly Remembers, and two full-length volumes of poetry, Wild Domestic and Moraine, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, Your Daily Poem, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac, Sheila-Na-Gig online and other publications.
I rise to a sky of milky stillness,
yet the plants are moving quietly
in their roots in a gentle unfurling
of leaf, a lengthening of stem.
For everything all around and in us
moves this way. Teeth emerge
from gums, nails like tiny glaciers
crawl across the nail bed, and life
pushes us along its moody current
toward an endpoint which is just
another new unfurling in a tale
of atoms moving within molecules.
Observe the squirrel who stands
and twitches her tail beneath the arm
of the cactus that just now
is preparing its wands to open
the silken flames of its flowers
to the milk-white sky
The Tyranny of Photographs
My mother kept our childhoods enshrined
in framed collages on her walls. She was there,
too, skinny dark-haired girl with a pair
of baby-faced brothers. But most of the photos
showed us as children, teenagers, young adults,
parents with toddlers.
It’s been so long since we were those versions
of ourselves. We remember those times, not
as we would remember them, but as the tyranny
of each photograph insists. And according
to that tyranny we are at our best: smiling,
healthy, surrounded by and full of love.
What the photographs don’t show is how
we’ve struggled for money, marriage and health,
how my brother and I stand on opposite banks
of our parents’ philosophy, how our sister’s reality
is gradually losing facts and details.
When Mother died, we divided the collages
among ourselves and our children. Now
our younger faces gaze from where they lean
against the walls, and from my own dresser —
my son’s and daughter’s childhood selves
preserved in frames, little ants in amber.
I feel her presence the way others
feel God. Though she gave me life,
she is no God, yet she is everywhere:
she moves among my photos and papers,
my shirts and jackets on their hangers;
she is curled like a napping cat in the belly
of my guitar. No longer tethered to her body,
she is with me even in my garden,
where the breeze is no longer too chill for her;
she is there among the growing things
she had so little love for when she lived –
preferring a piano bar to the nasturtium’s
vermilion horn. She always ended her letters
to me: My eternal love enfolds you
an abstraction while she lived; a truth
she keeps repeating, now that she is free.