a double Abecedarian
“Abbey Road” played on the old Vic
Because ma in her head, wandered London streets alone.
Canines choked themselves on leashes and
Danger signs depicted Falling Rocks.
Each day she woke in her body
Forgetful of how I lived.
Gads (is that a word she liked to use?) or
Had I dreamt it, how—intricately wedged
Inside a crowded tram, a wicker sofa
Jangled with gramma’s plates, champagne flutes, platters for
Key lime pies, their crusts perfectly baked—she
Left me, and the whole thing
Maybe collapsed, my arms outstretched in futile attempt,
No warning siren to prevent it.
Or was she a swan, kept at the king’s lake far from
Pudding Lane, the bakery that burnt the city down, the Lord Mayor
Querying, why’s the tea service so late, wringing his hands,
Ringing the silver bell again, which is how I sometimes waked.
Such is the precariousness of morning,
Victoria Park, perhaps, where golden statues glint and
Waterfowls’ guano collects on lawns because they’re fed
Extraneous amounts of stale bread,
Yawning S-shaped necks wing-tucked in slumber—do swans
Zzz as she (I wondered) in a cartoon would?—
Yet while dreaming
X can be anything, which means I am the wind died down, the lake,
fire, the swan, ma
Wandering wisteria-filled gardens to the soundtrack of 60s scratchy
Vinyl and all that disappointment, how
Umbrellas rarely fold correctly, wire limbs bent,
Telescopic pole that won’t compress in
Sideways rain (I’m wet anyway) and the umbrella,
Righting itself, is a weapon I,
Quivering droplets, can’t disarm,
Pointing its backward collapse into the wind.
O, I dreamt it again—smoke detectors
Not working in ma’s house,
Me asleep, my children sleeping—what if we woke too
Late and couldn’t escape,
Kitchen an inferno
Jettisoning smoke from a short-circuited oven, the pie ruined?
I wanted to flee
How I’ve almost become her, hoarding ironing boards stiff from neglect—
Good God we’re stuck, rusted in the joints in which
For fuck’s sake, falling rocks don’t happen at signposts!
Every day in my sleep I die,
Die not knowing if I can live, or if the smoke detector
Could, at the first sign of
Beeping, have its batteries ripped out and never replaced, until—
Alors, ma! it’s just me in the burnt-out wreckage.
Ellen Kombiyil is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015), and a micro chapbook Avalanche Tunnel (2016). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, North American Review, Salt Hill, The Minnesota Review, and Ploughshares. She is a two-time winner of the Mary M. Fay Poetry Award from Hunter College, a recipient of an Academy of American Poets college prize, and was awarded the Nancy Dean Medieval Prize for an essay on the acoustic quality of Chaucer’s poetics. She co-founded The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model press publishing emerging poets from India and the diaspora. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Hunter’s MFA program, she currently teaches creative writing at Hunter College.