PORTRAIT MODE by Christopher Salerno

That post-electro-shock therapy look
on my grandmother’s face. Her mornings
in the yellow world we called them.
Cheekbones a pair of minimalist stills
lit by an antediluvian light
like the two pale orchids I bring to the edge
of death and back each month.
What has happened could happen again.
Decades of dependence on medicine
and men. Husband in his siren-blue
uniform and badge. Wife whatever pink
pill is in her palm, and dreaming
of the driveway. One day she climbs
into the oak tree’s dark spokes
with her string of real pearls, rips the strand
letting each pearl fall like hail
against the hood of his parked patrol car.
We call this survival, confusing oneself
for a cloud spilling its affliction.
And the moment he draws his revolver
on his own kids in the kitchen
you can just make out the sound of
my grandmother’s gasp, about as loud
as some flowers being torn.

Christopher Salerno is the author of five books of poetry and the editor of Saturnalia Books. His most recent is Sun & Urn (UGA 2017). His forthcoming book, The Man Grave, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Award from Persea Books, and will be published in 2021. His poems have been a recipient of the Prairie Schooner Glenna Luschei Award, The Founders Prize from RHINO Magazine, the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Award, the Laurel Review Chapbook Prize, and a New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellowship. Recent poems have appeared in New York Times Magazine, New Republic, American Poetry Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. He is a Professor of Creative Writing at William Paterson University.