Momento Mori

In the attic, you cradle your mother’s fine porcelain,
Trace the bass relief handles, the smooth bands of gold
That circle the rims, which, in the dim light, glow amber.
The table linens still bear the trace scent of her perfume,
As you pull them from the box where they lay, forgotten and crumpled,
Memories condemned to a passive and unjust death sentence.

Next you find her journals; each word, each thought, each sentence
A fragile reminder of her humanity, delicate as porcelain.
The pages are yellowing with age, and some lay loose and crumpled
Like dry leaves, their edges stained brown and gilded gold.
Though dry, the smell of mildew lingers like a heavy perfume,
And you close them, memories preserved like flies caught in amber.

Then come the photographs; her, your cousin Daryll, your sister Amber–
She’s married to a drinker, he’s serving a three-year jail sentence.
All your life, you’d worn tragedy like a favorite perfume,
Something so pervasive and familiar, like the pattern on your porcelain,
That you barely noticed it. Your sister’s hair is streaked with gold,
Her resemblance to your mother clear though the photo is crumpled.

You wonder if your sister has heard yet; if she crumpled,
Fell like a ragdoll to her knees, your perfect sister Amber,
Who’d always been mum’s favorite. You imagine grey streaking that gold,
Shoulders shaking as she cradles the phone to hear that awful sentence:
Your mother is dead. You imagine her fingers running over old photos, porcelain,
Holding hand-made doilies to her nose, to catch a wisp of her perfume.

You set aside the pictures and open the last chest; the pungent perfume
Of cedar and mothballs pervades the air. Her wedding dress lay crumpled
At the bottom, the cream-color satin once white as fine porcelain,
The gold buttons lining the bodice now dulled to a burnished amber.
You’d never had the chance to wear it; you regarded marriage as a sentence,
Wedding rings like handcuffs, cast in the finest gold.

As you close the lids and tuck the boxes away, the sunset is a dazzling gold
On the lake outside. Through the cracked window, you smell the clean perfume
Of freshly turned earth and newly mown grass. Tomorrow, you will say a sentence
Or two at her grave, mostly for the benefit of the elders, bent crying and crumpled
On their childrens’ shoulders. But today, the horizon glows a warm and welcoming amber,
And you feel your heart in your chest, as delicate and damaged as cracked porcelain.

At dusk, the cloud are lined with gold, and you’re holding crumpled momentos
Still touched by your mother’s perfume. Tomorrow, the marble tombstone will glow amber
In the sun, and the sentence engraved will read, “A life as beautiful and fragile as porcelain.”