Saturday Jun 03

EmilyPulfer Terino Emily Pulfer-Terino is a poet and writer whose work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Hunger Mountain, The Collagist, The Southeast Review, Poetry Northwest, Stone Canoe, The Louisville Review, Juked, and other journals and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook, Stays The Heart, is published by Finishing Line Press. She has been a Tennessee Williams Poetry Scholar at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference and has been granted a fellowship for creative non-fiction at the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University, and she lives in Western Massachusetts.
Elegy For My Mother’s Dress

Where is it now, the dress my mother asks to be buried in?
Floor length, A-line, narrow as a knife, she wore it to the wedding
that she didn’t eat at forty years ago, then once to the theater.
She can find neither the dress now nor the photos of her in it;
crouched, lumbering though the attic, sweat spangles her brow.
But she used to show them to me often—photographs
of her, reposed, wearing the black and white sheath—
so the garment is inarched with my idea of what she was
before she snapped last time: brittle, pretty and abysmal.
Her body was a sleeve she shrunk from once, now swells beyond.
No doubt the dress won’t fit her anymore.
But let’s not doubt for a minute
that my mother, damp in her stretched-out t-shirt, breathing hard
in glowing dust, still has decades left to look for it.        
If, she instructs, it doesn’t fit her when she dies,
I should drape it, graphic and flat as a flag, over her closed coffin.
Closing my eyes as if, blinded, I might find it,
I can almost smell the fabric, stiff with must and Shalimar.
I can almost see what she says she fears: see the moths—
a flurry of hunger and bone white wings—
       envelop the dress, then eat it thread by thread.


Where hung clusters,
            heavy, bee-dusted, whose
fragrance stunned memory
            to ache, now dust-colored
blooms gone airy as ash
            remind it’s ache I love.

This yard a sprawl I’ve walked
            and walked, as if the past were
perfume I could breathe of
            so the present is worried
as tatted lace, frayed,
            yellowing. Mid-summer,         

mid-day, my mother sleeps
            in her lavender muumuu;
snug, its pearl snaps tugged
            to zigzag. Glistening
on the lawn divan, she is
            a kind of blossom too,

the air of her alive with talcum
            and sweet sweat. Flower-stitched,
a pink mule dangles from her ankle.
            What isn’t a world? A garden?
Where isn’t everything growing
            still, invisible, persistent? Piled

fashion magazines beside her gleam
            and slide like platelets shifting;
perfumed pages, torn out, gummed,
            come apart in heat. The only movement
hot breeze and her deep, accordionic
            breathing. Lilacs burned

this year before I got here. Still
            I can almost taste their air
that stays the heart.
            Papery and blank, they stand,
I like to think, for nothing. But
            in bloom, they rouse a question

I was born with and can’t answer.
            I watch my mother sleep
for minutes before waking her.
            How many afternoons like this.
I recollect the lilacs, thinking
     why what I love troubles me.

The Garden

Something’s gone to seed;
seeds remove themselves
and hover, incandescent

as the dead. In her garden,
in rough, accustomed sun
that tires the chard, my friend

works. I lie out here, burn taut
as hide, urging my skin to age,
watching it darken. Beside me,

among the anonymous greens,
her bent head, red as a flare,
regards me, concerned.

From time to time a breeze comes,
or a helicopter chortles overhead.
When I wanted to be dead

I worked to keep it to myself,
and helped string up that chaos
of tomatoes: cherry, brandywine.

I worked, stitched myself to this earth
of hers as it were the only world.
My friend said I was good at it.

       She thanked me.


Effusions of blooms impossible
           to see beyond in June, bride-eager,
pulsing through the dark
           in which I sleep alone,
chastened in the dormer’s origami.

Dust flocks the floorboards;
           my foot prints shine on oak.
Outside, tufts of flowers aloft
           in fleeting swoons—spectacles 
of lace and beads of stamen.

Up close, each flower
           more green than white,
more leaf than petal, eyelid-soft,
           bright-edged as a star.
I’ve come to need the tree 

to be this—object
           I don’t understand
and cannot take my eyes from
           so that, waking after rain to birds’
absurd hyperbole, I saw the branches

flowerless again and drowsed
           down to the floor by the window
to gather the spume of petals
           strewn into the room.
How strange 

that they weren’t flowers
           but were several slight, white moths,
upturned and dry as pages,
           powdered wings so fragile
they dissolved at my most careful touch.