Saving a life

My mother hanging sheets on a line 

in ’47. The wind believes it won the war, 

just like the rest of America, 

and swirls her black hair in a manner 

the photo likes to recall. 

Her simple skirt and blouse 

are proud of her youth. 

The train in the background 

leans no direction in particular, 

as if it had decided to stop running 

from its troubles. My mother insists 


it isn’t her. The train is dead 

and can’t be asked. I’ll have no luck 

tracking down the wind. The sheets 

resemble every silence we spread 

across our beds. 

But it looks like other pictures of her 

at that time. One in which she’s killing 

a bear. One in which she’s teaching algebra

to partisans. 

One in which she’s jumping from a plane 

with no parachute or fear. It isn’t me, 

she says of an expression 

that makes me self-conscious: 


whoever took the photo 

was hoping to touch her, 

and she was hoping to be touched. 

I say that based on decades 

of living with faces, mine 

and a few others. At the end of desire, 

my mother hides from its birth. 

Burn it with everything else, 

she says. She’s my mother. 

I remember she raised

an intelligent and moral child. 

I say yes. I lie.


Bob Hicok’s ninth book, Hold, is just out from Copper Canyon Press.