The Izabel Songs
by Lee Sharkey
In the hall, a metal closet. No mirror hangs there — what is there
to see? Sensible shoes and a gray uniform.
I live on this set but the mirror does not reflect me. The venetian
blinds turn down at night to contain the nuclear family.
What draws my attention is the brown-skinned woman, the aura
of gold about her. She cleans, she dusts, she tucks the sheets under the mattresses.
I follow, padding from over the linoleum from room to room.
She appears from nowhere. Her ears are pierced and she belongs
to me. I take a moment to adore her, I am still greedy for her,
her velvet skin, her plummy lips — she leaves, the house goes dark.
At the park, where she watches
I balance around the rim of the fountain, jump, I am green and flying
free, I drop in a penny, we walk home in no hurry. She fits the key to the lock.
A wrist turns clockwise. A sleeve rides back.
There is no word as small as an instant.
I lay my hand on her hand. Why don’t I have beautiful brown . . .
Instant I see my skin.
I am, she is
ironing the father’s undershorts, the mother’s handkerchiefs, the
room smells of steam, the radio’s tuned to the top ten.
She sings along in a clear soprano.
I am the questioner curled in an armchair, eyes trained on her,
infant with rings through her ears, motherless child whose father
set out to sea, she takes me to places I have never been,
the colored streets of Baltimore, the blue seas of Cape Verde, the tenements of Providence
but not West Africa, nor the Middle —
Something’s troubling the story. I want the vocabulary: maid,
nanny, mammy, subminimum,
Mr. and Mrs. and Iz.
When you die, can I have your gold earrings?
Thirty years she cleans for the family, moonlights on the graveyard shift.
Body parts of G.I. Joes pass all night before her.
The father takes leave of himself.
The mother packs up, moves south.
The daughter escapes the house.
She mothers many. Her sisters’ children and their children’s
children. Always the new baby displaces the one before.
It became a family story, how the daughter loved her other mother, who sewed her a princess costume that did not win the prize,
the hours she spent stitching ribbon to satin and tulle.