My Mother Skating

by Renée Ashley

I picture the steepest street in San Francisco
and I put her there, all obtuse angles, elbows

and hips, and lean as a poor cut of meat-my mother,
roller-skating back up the hill. The way she tells it,

she had a date and an hour to kill, so she pulled her skates
from beneath her narrow bed and, at home on the wild

precipitous streets, she played. I imagine the places
where her bones came together, her joints working

hard, pumping those wheels hard to gain the hill
when she remembered him, the skirt of her striped dress

bellowed back between her knees, full between the bare legs.
He was a dazzler, from a family of dazzlers; he came to her,

hands filled with chips of ice, the gift the girl would like,
the gift he could afford. She says, at thirty he trailed water

behind him, as later in his life he would trail urine
and bad news. Yet he waited in the full sun

for her, waited while she totted up miles on the pitted wheels;
he gave her more ice in a day than she could suck in her life,

and she took it-she was so taken, herself, by the older man,
by his sad history of love, the taste of which was clear

and good in her mouth, fresh as the ice he gave her.
They both drank it in and the pattern of sadness

built around them, as the callus had built on her heel
where the skate attached to her shoe. And she asked him

to wait while she drew the key from her dress, blind
to the layer of sweat at the neckline where the full breasts

topped the slight body. Facile as thread, she begged
forgiveness while she pulled off her skates and ran

up the stairs, for the transformation, for the woman she kept
in her one good dress, in her stockings, and her box

of dime-store mascara. She was as blind
to her own charm, to the mind of the ripe girl,

as she was to the sway of her breasts beneath her dress,
and to the sorrow, imprinted somewhere deep and near her heart,

blind to the inevitability of unhappiness stamped
on her genes, passed like ice from mouth to thirsty mouth.


Last updated March 29, 2023