Sara Pirkle Hughes

My Mother After My Fourth Round of Chemo
With such soft hands,
my mother smooths my back
the way she did
on dark school days
until I stopped letting her.
She would stand by my pillow,
mute as a shut door, or
what’s behind a shut door.
Her mother having been harsh,
my mother spared the switch,
even when I deserved it.
In the shadowy bedroom,
I would lie as in a coma,
as if I didn’t feel her fingers
combing my hair
or tracing the alphabet
across my shoulders.
At thirteen, I could never confess
the tenderness she roused in my chest,
my daughter-heart spinning
like a ceiling fan.
How often I received with eyes shut
the shy sacrament of touch,
unwilling to stir—
her clue that I knew
what she was doing.
And how, with such cruelty,
my eyes would fix on her hands
during daylight: peeling potatoes,
hemming my pants, typing
my book reports.
For the woman who woke me
by rubbing my back,
I would linger ten paces behind
in the supermarket
so no one would know
I belonged to her.
Now, I lay my head
in my mother’s lap.
Her hands travel lengths
they have not reached
in twenty years.
Fever-blind, I retreat
to a childhood relief:
my mother’s touch
will dissolve my disease
easy as dawn erases dreams.

Sara Pirkle Hughes’s first book, The Disappearing Act, won the 2016 Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry and is forthcoming from Mercer University Press. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Net Anthology, and the Independent Best American Poetry Award. She has published in dozens of literary journals, including Rattle, Reed, Rosebud, Emrys, Atlanta Review, Juxtaprose, and Atticus Review, among others. She has received writing fellowships from I-Park Foundation and The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. She teaches at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia.