Despite how mystically moonlight snakes a path across the lake tonight, and because love is the property solely of country music, and since Plath’s bell jar of pain runneth over for all eternity, I will write only of a toe—a plain enough thing—the fourth toe on my mother’s right foot and how each day, despite my bathing it, my application of greasy salve, the wrapping and rewrapping to apply just enough pressure, it continued to blacken, the toe like a banana past sweetness to the other side of neglect, or salt beef dried to jerky, tenderness abandoned to gristle, so I write this about my mother’s toe, how the doctor tells us it must go as if speaking of an ingrown hair or a splinter, as if it were nothing important, nothing a person spent her whole life walking on, on grass, over damp-mopped kitchen linoleum, dancing backwards in high heels over slick-waxed ballrooms floors, or in babyhood grabbed for all googley-eyed and occasionally even sucked, this dried-up toe that oddly causes mother no pain, and yet when the doctor says the toe must go, this woman who was a marble column at father’s bedside during his failed chemo, who later presided over father’s grave, stolid as a granite headstone, and not long after, this woman who sat composed as Rodin’s “Bather” as another doctor spoke the word mastectomy to her, and all through radiation wore a Mona Lisa smile, this woman does a thing I’d never seen her do, my mother cries, sobs, weeps, exhausts all the tissues in the doctor’s stainless dispenser, and keeps crying over this very small rotten toe, this calamity of losing what one least expected to lose.
“The Toe” appears in the e-book anthology Fire on Her Tongue (Two Sylvias Press, 2012).
Lana Hechtman Ayers, originally from New York, lives in Kingston, Washington after a seventeen year sojourn in New England. She has been writing poetry since she could hold a crayon and is now working on her first novel. Her two most recent poetry collections, What Big Teeth (chapbook) and A New Red (full-length), are concerned with the real adult life of Red Riding Hood and associates. Lana runs two poetry chapbook presses, Concrete Wolf (national) and MoonPath Press (dedicated to Pacific Northwest Poets). Ice cream is Lana’s favorite food group.
Lana will be reading new work at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle on Friday, July 27, at 7:00, along with poets Raul Sanchez and John Burgess.