Washing My Mother’s Nightgown

My mother’s nightgown
Is flashing in the wind
Quite indecently
With blue embroidered lace
Galloping, Doris Day-like along
The hem
And daringly deep neckline
Puckered with elastic
So it might be teased down
Or a hand could slip
Quite casually
During a deep kiss
Onto a waiting breast.

But alas, she wore this
At the nursing home
Eating lukewarm soup
And with strangers’ hands
Propping her onto the toilet.

But now its baby-blue ribbons
In near evening wind
With her name stamped
In laundry-proof words
Near the back label of 100 percent

Perhaps, before, she wore
It with my dad
Crawling into the bed
Next to hers
Like the TV couples at the time.
Surely the ruffles fluffed up
And raised their eyelet charms
Above her sheet
So he might peek out
Of his tucked domain and swim
The two feet onto her shore

So they might find each other
With kids downstairs in their summer beds
And the days
of warring and worry melting
Fast into hot, pre-air-conditioning
With the primal precision
Of those about to be found out
And the punctuating howl
That, of course,
Must be swallowed
So the kids won’t hear.

Then afterwards
The move to solo beds
And paths unknown when two
Must journey their whole lives
Together, but also

Now her dainty nightie
Spins upon a patio wire
With lights that come on
At 8:00 p.m.
Mad with the freedom
From the drawer
And the earthly body that held
It down in its aging bed

Free to dream
Of those after-the-news nights
Where it was almost torn
From the swift
Deep wrestle of suburban
Souls crashing
Onto each other.

Before I take it down
From its hanger in the sun
Fold it up
Into a neat white square
And tuck it away
Into storage.

About the Author
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, performance poet Jean Howard resided in Chicago from 1979 to 1999. She has since returned to Salt Lake City. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Off The Coast, Clackamas Literary Review, Harper’s Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Eclipse, Atlanta Review, among others.