Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Mary Jo Bang

Mrs. Autumn and Her Two Daughters

after Sigmar Polke: Synthetic resin on polyester fabric, 1991

We live in an ocean
of white waiting to fall.  
One of us is not like our mother and it's me. It's I. 
My eyes are mostly closed. 

My mother knows
how to make snow. We never see
our feet. Our skirts end in the oncoming frost. 
My sister wears ermine. I have a narrow waist.

I no longer curl my hair. Why bother?
I love my sister but hate my mother
yet we're all of a piece. 
Endless snipsnip. Ragged fragment.

We still live where you last left us--
between the palace where you keep your winter 
and the summer garden of the ersatz emperor. 
Did I hear you say China? If I did you are right.

We live atop the continent
that contains such poverty. Such pollution. 
Such eerie beauty. Always a mountain. 
Always a screen. White washes 

over me. I do not act
like my mother. I lean farther. 
What I make annihilates the mirror of China
but not the mountain.

Not the man walking away.
My mother says throw more snow but I can't
help thinking 
There is more to being than erasure.

You are wrong she says. You don't wear your cape.

© 2001 Mary Jo Bang