A Private Viewing



The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.  


The peonies have folded into themselves,
stems shriveled into fragile twigs.
Ima’s finger pads, puncture wounds
gorging on the syringe’s fluids like starving soil.


“If they cannot look at the iris” Father said,
they look at the hands.”
He fetches the acrylics in the drawers
and glues the tips into her nail beds.
Ima hated the waxy coating of polyester leaves.
She would hate the brittle free edges
of these fake fingernails. 


Ima, the basement is too dark for you.
You preferred stretches of cloudless skies
and July’s relentless sunbeams.  
Seeing you anywhere
but in your rocking chair, knitting needles clicking
while you hum Wherever He Leads I’ll Go,
is cities away from this embalming table.


When Father cleanses her hands
and pastes them together,
I hope he glues them in prayer.


Punnett Squares


I cannot speak genetic code.
Cannot thread the sequences
together like a child’s handmade necklace.
The sequences of Ima and I
are used as extensions
to reach rain leaf gutters.
With others, I would slip
and catch my ankle on their rungs.
I want to tell my helix
to unravel, let the beads
fall and sleep with Ima’s,
like she did when I was locked
in my bedroom, coughing up capillaries.

Ima’s corpse makes me sick
like looking into the open casket.
Expect her eyes
to rocket open,
her blood and acid in the drain
of the embalming table.
Unravel my ladder, and herd the genomes
where her blood dozes.

Lay us both in the same plot.
Sometimes I want to hide
in her veins and hang
a hammock on the ribcage.
She is the parlor I read in
under dimmed lamplight,
shoes scattered from the front door
to the kitchen.


Caitlin Cundiff received her MFA in Poetry from Oklahoma State University.