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My Mother at Twenty-One

— E. Hughes

Imagine what she must have been—
the gap still between her teeth and hopeful.

The reality of the future still foggy and at bay
in the burgundy of her eyes, some cascading

emerald light at the horizon of herself.
She has just become a mother, still with enough

of herself to give one daughter. Happiness
close enough to touch like god’s brown face

during the act of prayer. I imagine it:
The barely furnished apartment the mother and baby share

with their relatives: The mattresses and box-springs
on the carpeted floor. The long gray cabinets

(in them just enough
               formula for the week).

The mirrored coffee table bordered in brass
and cluttered with loose change, Blue Magic,

and a wide-toothed comb. The faux ficus in the corner—
the way dust collected on its leaves looked like

cleft geodes in light. The year is 1985 and her grandmother
is still alive. No one she loves yet has contracted the virus,

has died by heart attack or overdose—. My mother
when she was young, her jade hair permed and pressed

into a bob, red lipstick finished around the curves of her lips—.
I can imagine her when she was young

              before—
                                          before—
                                                                      before—


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