Easter Portrait (poetry)

All gone to oranges now
once flamed with pink on spring green tendrils
that climbed our matching dresses to touch
the shocking white of our lacy bib collars
accented at the throat with plum satin bows.
My sister smiles a broad white that reflects
my broken child’s hair. I smile with my teeth
out a touch. Light bounces from the lenses of my
half-transitioned Coke bottles, near permanently
dim, to one of my sister’s neatly arranged
auburn Botticelli curls—one twist of many
about her I envy.

We each have one hand on a taxidermy-stiff,
red eyed plush bunny the photographer
shoved between us to encourage
something shared and quiet.
The closest he got us to sisterhood that day
was leaned-away touching at the shoulder—
the furthest torso point from our hearts.

All gone to adulthood now
and Valentine’s Day vacuum cleaners
received with kisses like hand cut doilies,
my sister and I have become
pre-midlife reawakened to something like
crystal-sucking New Agers without
the liberalism, too much nature stuff,
or any urgent concerns about the patriarchy.

I step off the train on a wet, sky-spitting Saturday night
to celebrate my sister’s 29th-again birthday.
There is streaked silver in the puddles through which
the train runs, upside down, loping on to LA.
My sister wears a demure sweater as accent
to a royal purple petticoat that flounces
in the whoosh of the train.
I wear an oversized silver lotus petal with seven
fake stones masking a magnifying glass behind.
We hug.

-M. Ashley

Ophelia’s Opal (poetry)

When my grandmother knew she was dying
she picked out an opal for me,
had a ring designed
and sized it,
for the short time being,
for her own hand.
I was an infant then, recently diagnosed
lifelong colorless and could-be blind.

My grandmother was a force—
a farm girl who took beatings
for sneaking away to read,
a young woman who left her family
to work among foul mouthed boys
at the Pentagon during WWII,
a single mother,
a stone wall,
razor tongue,
acid wit,
first female management at the FAA.

She held me at the hospital
in a hallway while the final diagnosis
was pronounced to my parents
in a tiny, sterile room.
Her breast was warm,
though the breathing behind it was labored.
Her embrace was soothing
though her hands were not soft
from folding crust-cut sandwiches in wax paper
for her children or grandchildren’s outings
of uncomplicated youth.

She explored my hot face and closed eyelids
with her wise yet diminishing fingers,
the opal slipping forward and upside down
under her nearly exposed knuckle,
resting against my forehead,
cooling a spot just above my eyes.
She leaned forward and blessed me,
“My dear little Michelle-y,
I do hope you can see.”

-M. Ashley

Durian (poetry)

For his seventeenth birthday, I bought my Thai stepson a green, spiny
“poo poo” fruit, the proper name for which is “durian,” the mighty stench—

abject suffering—one of the Four Noble Truths spoken by Buddha
grounding in our physicality, merciless as dirty diapers.

He’d been craving the delicate, baneful brown-yellow fruit flesh for months,
spoke of it often, pining, a taste of sunny childhood in Phuket

laid sensually against the teeth, tongue, and palate, lilting comfort
like the sonorous language he had to exchange for stark, clipped our English.

-M. Ashley

My Mother’s Attempted Slow Suicide by Refusing to Eat (poetry)

I hope this is the last time my
Tired ass leaves the seat of
This gray vinyl hospital chair
Turned forty-five degrees to
My mother’s gray blanketed
Hospital bed. She’s being
Discharged today to better things
I hope.

Today—leaving day—
Is the first day I noticed there is
Color in this room. I have nothing
Poetry profound to say about
This presence—the coral and blue.
Nothing you can carry in your pocket when
Your mom attempts slow suicide too by
Refusing to eat—to comfort you. To
Reckon the anger. All the anger.

Except to say the color is there.
The color is there, aloof
Of whether you see it or not.

But do see it. See the color.
It’s there.

-M. Ashley
photo taken at Kaiser Ontario Hospital, Ontario, CA

Flower Mom

Says she was a willful child—
the little girl who chopped a
row of her mother’s tall flowers
down for looking at her
funny when she came home from
school. She planted snapdragons
where the mocking birds of
paradise had been. Snapdragons’
faces are fierce too, but sweeter.
They don’t speak unless spoken to.
They only laugh when a hand is
applied to their delicate jaws.


Relentless Dream

My teeth crumble
disease-gray gravel
embedded in wet
disease-gray globs—

the unset cement of
recurring terrors spat
into one of Dad’s coffee
stained handkerchiefs.

My jaw and right
cheekbone unhinge. Too
much loss. Too much loss.
Too much neglect.

Too much neglect. Too
many blows to the
little pink precocious