She rises for morning pills. Exactly eleven
I prep as she smokes cigarettes on the deck
in the orange horizon of daybreak,
white rings float above her head.
Orange is the color of caution.
She used to erupt the way Mt. Vesuvius
wiped out Pompeii in seconds.
The years of fighting forced medication, restraints,
that horrible night in the open hospital gown
tased by the rookie cop.
Now she’s content to sit, takes eleven pills
without complaint. Under the surface, she dreads
the drive back to the rickety house
off the old route. State cuts to Medicaid,
so she’s been displaced from the good facility
in the city. I will sit in her room crammed with beds
and food boxes and ask— how is it here?
Now that she’s finally learned
to say everything’s fine when nothing is.
I bought a bouquet of closed lilies
I called hope or surprise.
By night they opened, a burst of crimson
with burgundy freckles and velvet spores—
the softness of the molds that covered
our mother’s nose and cheeks.
I eyed them all day. Like you sister,
I can’t ignore a bouquet.
The night your facility phoned—
A delivery of blush carnations
at the nurse’s station, so tempting
you swiped them and skipped down the hall.
You know how she likes to skip,
the nurse added as she rambled on.
You fell, cut your hand on broken glass,
Our mother dead one year, petals
scattered along the hospital hall.
Crystal Simone Smith is the author of Routes Home (Finishing Line Press) and Running Music (Longleaf Press). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Callaloo, Nimrod, Barrow Street, Obsidian II: Literature in the African Diaspora, African American Review, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She is an alumna of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers Conference. She is currently the Managing Editor of Backbone Press.