ONE GOOD DRESS
The river was blue before the flood. Before the rain came and didn’t stop for three days. The people were blue after the river forced its way into their mouths. Your mama was still a girl. She first met your daddy at the edge of town. The weeds were eating their way past the railroad tracks. You remember your mama in her one good dress. She said, “Light my cigarette.” She said, “Light my cigarette but don’t leave me.”
Your eyes were blue, like your mama’s one good dress, when you left your hometown. Your brother’s ghost lingered behind. You remembered when you were both still boys. How the apples on the trees turned from sweet to bitter. Your brother would pick them, cradling them like babies in his shirt. How he carried the weight for years—a burden he never wanted for you. How the heaviness became the gun he held to his head.
Blue is the color of serenity, but you know it as love’s defeat. You know it as a woman lying broken on the ground, the shadow of the building she jumped from sheltering her. You say, “I wasn’t worth it.” But you know better. You know because she was a jigsaw puzzle and you would put her together, someday.
You awaken in a flood of blue now. You wait for an hour, wondering how long it will take until someone notices you never showed. Wondering how long it will take before someone comes knocking on your door. The pounding of bone against wood will replace the burden of your heart.
They say your mama was buried in her one good dress. That the earth was black against the blue of her hem. They say, “You can never go home again,” but you know this isn’t true. Every night you lie alone in a bed, the rain outside your bedroom window tapping with small fingers against the glass.
They say the river won’t flood again, that the waters won’t swell. I say, “I love you,” and I wonder if my words are blue. The color of a fresh bruise. The color of the river before the flood. The color of the flame from the match when you lit your mama’s cigarette, the embers catching on the hem of her one good dress.