The Last Thing I Do for My Mother

We made light of it—her pressing need,
creases sharp as pain, even jeans.
Spray bottle, television,
for nearly 40 years a cigarette
yet never an accidental burn
on the cloth she tortured into shape.
A lightweight model, she drove it down
so hard it may as well have been
a polished anvil in her arms, her brutish
motherly arms. What anger did she release
with steam and pressure?
Now the muscle tone of those years is lost—
irradiated to sagging flesh,
burned on purpose.
“Don’t press my clothes anymore.
It only makes them bigger.”
She needs to shrink the familiar cloth to fit,
to feel her favorite things embrace
as they have always done.
“This is no time to shop for new.”


The last thing I do for her is press this iron down,
not too hot for the satin gown
she’s never worn till now.
We can move her now without causing pain,
lift her arms like a child’s before bed—
now I lay her down to sleep—
Three men will see my final efforts if they look:
embroidered roses on the flattened collar,
smooth perfection between the buttons on the back,
the lacey cuffs without a crease. It is lovely,
like the one she hemmed by hand for my honeymoon,
hundreds of tiny hidden stitches,
the whiteness slipping through her fingers like time.
In just a few minutes
two men will place her unsuffering body
gently in a garment bag
sized for larger clothes than she has ever worn.
They’ll pull the zipper from foot to face
and pause, then over her head.
They’ll wheel her out and down the steps
to a van that waits in the driveway,
motor idling,
to be driven to another man
who will slice the white with scissors,
hem to neckline,
ignore the satin buttons,
toss it all into the trash.

— Kathy Ackerman

Kathy Ackerman has published three poetry chapbooks: The Time It Takes; Crossbones and Princess Lace; and Knock Wood, and her poems have appeared in several literary journals. Her first full-length collection of poems, Coal River Road, was published in 2013. She is also the author of The Heart of Revolution: The Radical Life and Novels of Olive Dargan (University of Tennessee Press). Ackerman is Writer-in-Residence and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Isothermal Community College in Spindale, NC.

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