“It didn’t flare like tissue or burn to ash but hovered many minutes …”

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After the Wake, Gramma Ruth Communes with Her Beloved


“There in a jar, emptied of buttons —

mama put a butterfly

after she flew it inside a warm oven.

It didn’t flare like tissue or burn to ash

but hovered many minutes before falling

heavy toward the rack, wings

the color of peacocks, green & black dots,

spotted head & looped proboscis.

I’d wanted to stroke it, I think, the day

I laid mama to rest, legs like bent sticks

perfect with bristling stillness

as if sealed in a gift shop paperweight.

When I tilted it toward the rim — foot-caught

then sprung — it lurched

as if alive again, then dust-ruined, stained

the linoleum. I scoured the oven

needing to rid it of all the lost wishes

baked into birthday cakes devoured since.

Mama taught me thrift, how not to want.

Each year she lit an extra candle for luck.


“Remember when we met — I wore a pea

green dress, my hair sprayed with Aqua Net.

Mama had no pearls to lend me

& I’d taken down the hem myself.

In the throes of summer, beyond the baby oaks,

your caged tomatoes still grow, although no one

tends them. How you hated those store-bought pink discs,

refusing also mushrooms in your meat sauce

because you don’t pay money for fungus!

It’s gone now, the hutch you made for the chickens,

wood latch grooved with your thumbprint,

wire mesh dented where you leaned against it.

Oh, Russ, you could fix anything

except the kitchen clock always did run slow.

I’d be sifting flour for pound cake,

you’d be hollerin Ruth, c’mon let’s go

and I’d rush flour-coated, hair falling in wisps,

get on a good dress, shoes, hose, my coat

hung in the hall closet like forever,

you in the car fuming we’re going to be late

for heaven’s sake, the cake half-risen on the counter.


Ellen Kombiyil is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015), and a micro chapbook, Avalanche Tunnel (2016). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, The Moth, New Ohio Review, North American Review, and The Offing. She is a two-time winner of the Mary M. Fay Poetry Award from Hunter College, a recipient of an Academy of American Poets college prize, and was awarded the Nancy Dean Medieval Prize for an essay on the acoustic quality of Chaucer’s poetics. She is a founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model press publishing emerging poets from India and the diaspora.


Featured image: Hippolyte Lucas, from Histoire Naturelle des Lepidoptères Exotiques, Paris, 1835.