Sometimes the Dead

Winner of Lilith’s 2011 Charlotte A. Newberger Poetry Prize

My mother is always alive when I dream of her.
In her downtown clothes the silk scarf floats
on her shoulder, she waves her white gloves.

On the hill above the cemetery, the empty wooden swing
sweeps back and forth as if a young girl still rides
its perfect arc above the graves.

In the subterranean station it is night in either direction.
Voices of the dead call to each other across the tracks,
as if each were a name they could return to.

Sometimes the dead cover the mirrors
with their own faces
so when I look at myself
it’s my mother’s features I see—
the way I remember her
in the clamp of letting go.

The dead mourn
for themselves from the dark terminals
of their eyes, all night
toss and sweat
under the rose-patterned sheets
a weed in my own bed
as if I didn’t belong there,
as if the dead were entitled
to as much room as they need.

Babo Kamel coordinates a program for high-risk students and teaches at North Shore Community College in Lynn, MA. A graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA program, she has been published in various literary reviews including The Greensboro Review, Contemporary Verse 2, The Grolier Poetry Prize Annual and Alligator Juniper.