Ashtrays as Big as Hubcaps
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.
—Mary Oliver, “Singapore”
That woman scrubbing the big ashtrays with a blue rag,
she was my mother. Her hands were not moving like a river.
He dark hair was not like the wing of a bird, it was wispy.
When she smiled at you, she was not feeling embarrassed.
She knew the toilet bowl was a good place for the ashtrays
but guessed the work argued with your wobbly stomach.
You flew home and put her in a poem called “Singapore.”
I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life, you wrote,
I want her to rise up from the slop and fly down to the river.
She becomes, for you and your American fans, a picture
of the light that can shine out of a life, meaning, a saint,
and the picture is completed, roundly, with trees and birds.
She bused home and said nothing, for you were forgotten
in her rush to stick the laundry out of the window to dry.
She remembered you later, the night as humid as always.
She had nice stockings on, or else she could have knelt
in my place. She must have troubles of her own, we all do,
my mother said, with the resentful condescension of the poor.