Releasing the Birds

Next to her embroidered lawn handkerchiefs
my mother’s empty gloves lay
paired in the nest of her drawer:

short white Easter ones that stopped at the wrist;
netted crocheted gloves for summer; an ecru pair
four inches past her watchband, the backs detailed

with three rows of stitching raised like fine bones;
three-quarter length pigskin to wear under coats;
black lace for cocktails, white for weddings;

sexy gloves with gathers up the length so they’d
look like they were slouching; the knitted
Bavarians, Loden green, stiff as boiled wool.

My first prom dress — strapless, floor-length — I wore
her formal opera gloves. Pearl buttons on the delicate
underside of my wrists, then the white went up and up.

I kept six pairs, my sister took the rest. Saying
someone should use them, she gave them away
at work, set them out for the taking.

Tonight, I lay the table with my mother’s china.
At each place, a pair of gloves palms up, wrists
touching in a gesture of receiving and giving.

I held back the gloves she’d bought in Italy: black
leather, elbow length, the right glove torn at thumb
and palm as if she’d reached for something too late

or held onto something too long.

Cathie Sandstrom Smith