Ashbuds by Danusha Laméris

I thought nothing of it, the way my mother would recite
from memory as she drove us to school, or loaded groceries
into the car. Stopping to pay the dark-haired teller
on the Bay Bridge two dollars, she might, as she headed off
into morning traffic, begin, “Love, unperceived, a more
ideal artist he than all, came, drew your pencil from you,
made those eyes darker than darkest pansies, and that hair
more black than ashbuds in the front of March.

It was embarrassing to us, my brother and I, that when someone
came for tea, she could lapse into Tennyson and Shelly
without warning. Or that, when we went to see a Shakespeare play,
she’d mouth along the words to every scene. Although
we knew the reason. She’d explained— that as a girl she’d had
a photographic memory, and, as we knew, a British
education, and could still recall everything she’d read
by the age of fifteen as if it had been written in indigo ink
onto her frontal lobe. How could I have known that I would
spend my life trying to replicate that miracle? The way she always had
a library inside, and could, whatever happened, however painful
or sublime, reach in, search the shelves, pull out a book and open
to the perfect page. I’ve wanted to have half as much—
a repertoire, a way to hold the vast unsayable. If I try,
I can still hear the way those lines reverberated in the air
of our old, mustard-colored Toyota station wagon—another thing
I was ashamed of—my mother—so young, sitting
in front of me as she made her way down Market Street,
a bright silk scarf tied around her head, my brother
asleep beside me in the back seat, his head lolling, a little,
onto my shoulder, while I rolled the phrase, “the front of March,”
around in my mind, imagining time as a door one might enter
and leave, as though you could step outside it, into another world,
a world filled with ashbuds—whatever they were—though
I imagined them to be the furred seed pods of a delicate
and wondrous tree, a tree I would surely climb if I saw it.
Danusha Laméris’s first book, The Moons of August (Autumn House, 2014), was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the Autumn House Press poetry prize. Some of her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2017, The New York Times, The American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her second book, Bonfire Opera, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in spring 2020. She teaches poetry independently, and is the current Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, California.