He held mama across his shoulders
like a sack of stormwood,
skin blueblack around the backs
of her thighs. He told us they
wrapped her in a bedsheet,
painted her face with soap
the palms of their hands rough sponges
trying to break the fever.
Me and Eppy catcrouched under the
old doorframe, and papa kept
pulling stones from the boundary wall.
He looks small without her,
a bird in his cage. If you opened
the door he wouldn’t fly out.
She wakes in the morning to the smell
of fried okra, its oil rough-bubbling
in the vendor’s metal drum. Propped against
a bean can is a cardboard sign.
Okra-man watches through bloodshot eyes
as she pulls out her auntie’s sewing machine
its thick blue arm a polished bone
hugged close to her feet. She tuts at the bobbin
uncups the thimble, wipes dust from the base
with a lavender hem. Bare-skinned girls
listen to the needle and thread, to the empty
song of their mothers. They watch her
fingers dance, cast magic on the cloth–
that small act of holding things together.