The Frequency of Goodnight

Tiana Clark

Like so many nights of my childhood 
I lived inside the fishbowl 
of a one-bedroom apartment, 
waited for my mother to come home 
(from her second job). As a waitress 
she wore orthopedic shoes for flat feet. 
All her uniforms blur together: IHOP, 
Red Lobster, Rainforest Café, Shoney's...
This is how she tucked me in-- 
jingle and clack of keys 
would turn the doorknob open 
allow me to fall asleep.
She tucked me in-- not with blankets 
or a kiss on the forehead, 
but with locking the door behind her.
My single mother would take those big, 
boxy shoes off, unhook her bra 
(too tired to take it all the way off) 
and eat the left over pizza 
I had ordered for dinner. 
Television shadows flickered 
her exhausted frame, smell 
of other people's food on her skin,
crumpled ones, fives, and tens 
fanned out of her server book. 
I heard the change from bad tippers 
like hail on the kitchen counter. 
Maybe for other children 
the purr of the air conditioner, the sound 
of a ceiling fan whisking the darkness, 
or the steady neon glow of a nightlight 
set their dreams ablaze?
But for me, hearing those keys 
slipped me under the wing 
of my mother's white noise.


Let me begin again,
when I was a waitress during college,
I had the shoes that doctors and nurses 
wore to support their posture. 
Saturdays I worked doubles, 
toward the end of my two shifts 
my pace would slow--
as I made laps around my tables, 
picked up half eaten sandwiches, 
grabbed wadded napkins with chewed 
gristle. When we closed, 
I'd be on my hands and knees, 
as I swept litter from the day,
collected broken-off ends of French fries, 
dislodged pucks of used gum, 
dragged swollen and leaky trash bags 
to the dumpster. 
Bone heavy and body tired--
I would come home, 
take those heavy wooden clogs off. 
Turn on some show and listen 
to the cadence of dialogue 
like a metronome tipping my head 
to the baptism of sleep.

Let me begin again,
The first dead body I ever saw 
was my grandmother. Alzheimer's-- 
My mother said, She always left 
that old TV on while she slept... 
damn frequencies messed with her head. 
If I focus now, I can still see my mom
asleep in her uniform on the couch--
feet propped up, open pizza box 
dappled in grease stains. 
I would tiptoe and turn off the television,
slink back to our bedroom. 
This is how I tucked her in. 
This is how we said goodnight.

Last updated December 17, 2022