My mother is walking in the garden,
her bare feet are calloused
and covered in dirt,
her toenails painted red.
The hem of her sundress is wet from the water pail
and her skin is sticky with sweat,
but her hair smells of the honeysuckles
that grow wild on our chain-link fence
and the gardenias in the walkway
that my sister and I pick
and float in chipped teacups on our bedside tables.
I am five years old and watching her
through the kitchen window.
She hears me tap on the glass and smiles
from over her shoulder.
My mother is in her makeshift art studio,
an old wooden desk in the corner
of our screened-in back porch.
Her hair is bundled into a knot
that sits on top of her head.
Her hands are covered in papier-mâché,
busy sculpting a sad face.
A cigarette rests between her pink lips,
ashes falling into her lap.
I am six years old and waiting for her
on the weathered porch steps,
picking at my scabbed knees,
giving her just five more minutes
for the fifth time.
My mother is on the beach in a white bathing suit,
a blue hat shading her sun kissed face.
She is building a sand mermaid,
curious people stop to watch.
My sister and I are on the shoreline,
collecting seaweed for the mermaid’s hair.
I am nine years old and walking towards my mother,
my feet sinking into the cold sand.
Her eyes are green like the ocean,
her hair is blonde and curly like mine.
My mother is tired in the kitchen,
wearing her floral nightgown.
I watch the thin straps press
into the tops of her shoulders
as she reaches into the high cabinets
to put away the glass dishes.
I am thirteen years old and motionless,
with a strange emptiness in my stomach
that makes me miss her,
somehow realizing that
like the spring flowers that wither in the summer heat,
the papier-mâché faces that fall from tall bookshelves,
the glass dishes that break on tile floors,
and the sand mermaids that wash away
in the morning tide,
my mother, too, is impermanent.