Spilled Milk on Banjo

Lisa Williams Click to read more...

Lisa Williams poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Southwest Review, The CincinnatiReview, Raritan and elsewhere. Her books of poetry are The Hammered Dulcimer (Utah State, 1998) and Woman Reading to the Sea (Norton, 2008), which received the Barnard Women Poets’ Prize. She teaches at Centre College in Kentucky.

when the dogwood petals begin to fall
a glass of milk knocked over on the grass
like the glass I spilled on my mother’s banjo
a skin of change across the morning
table she’d laid it on when I was six
when the dogwood petals begin to drift
then I am less and when they are torn
in a startling hard spring rain I am
unmoored as the tree is ripped
so all its milky petals on the ground
just disappear they will not return
no more excursions from the branch
this year the banjo my mother stroked
with her clicking silver finger picks
like claws like machine gears flashing
faster and faster her curved hands
raking across the strings such ringing
echoes from that hollow drum
and its tightened skin by accident
on the glassy disk of her instrument
I knocked the glass of milk so quickly it
ran I think I laughed then thinking
change was pretty overlaid silver skin
thin running liquid when the dogwood
leaves begin to fall – no, petals – leaves
still hang their secrecies tenacious
but without the incandescent spread
across the morning and at night
amid the other darknesses petals
flaring a skeletal miracle
I am sad girls are indelicate banjo
strings taut in their silver girdle
sharp in memory as my mother
calls out the petals already fallen
which tells us spring is over now forget

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