M. Brett Gaffney

One of the last resort treatments for tuberculosis patients was thoracoplasty,
in which the chest was cut open and two to three ribs removed. Most patients,
when released, would not leave their homes because of their appearance.

June. Trees sickly green. Mother hobbles
to the car wrapped in blankets.
The doctor says she's recovered
from surgery but she won't put on clothes,
says they don't fit her anymore,
now that they've taken two of her ribs,
left her lopsided and ugly.

In the backseat she is a bat, wings folded
in on herself, head tucked, eyes closed
against the sun as if it's too bright, too full
of everything she remembers about summer:

fishing by the pond in her sundress, the one
that always made Daddy run after her, both of them
stumbling from the muddy water soaked in laughter.

Daddy's drawings—her hair a swirl of smudges,
his hands deft and dirty with charcoal.

That was before me and my brothers,
before our men were swallowed up by the mountains,
lost to a darkness I've never known, my girlhood days spent
with mother, hanging sheets on the line like trapped kites.

And now I've lost her to her own avalanche.
I can see it in her eyes, her going inward and away from us,
as if she's fallen into an endless mine
with no lantern to lead her home.

Even sunflowers lean a little I tell her.
Only when the sun's out she says.

I'll never forget the doctor's face, his beaming smile
as we signed her release papers. It gave me hope.

But now I know her body, tired and off kilter,
plans to pull tight the curtains and retreat to the dark of her room.

I know my mother is healed but I don't know where to find her.

M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University and is the Art Editor for Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Exit 7, REAL, Still: The Journal, Scapegoat Review, BlazeVOX, Sugared Water, Permafrost, Fruita Pulp, Rogue Agent, museum of americana, and Zone 3 among others. 

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