A “cameo” is a small engraved piece of jewelry, often a stone or, in this case, a shell. In this week’s poem, the speaker follows the origin of a cameo into her life, from its past to its future, to reflect on the “hollow sound” that is felt when a parent dies.

Linda Aldrich lives in Portland. Her most recent book is “March and Mad Women” (WordTech Communications, 2016).

Cameo

By Linda Aldrich

If cassis shells were found on a beach

in Madagascar by a boy with a woven basket or pulled up

in a net heavy with shells, the clatter of their falling together

like china cups hitting but not breaking, the sound so common,

villagers didn’t think twice about the creatures

living inside, who died a quiet, secret death,

and if the shells were sent to Italy to have

their layered dorsa carved, the top a cream, the bottom

caramel, into Greek goddesses who float with flower-filled hair,

and were purchased by Victorian ladies on European tours

to grace lacy collars, to be passed down from mother

to daughter to mother again,

how likely is it that on some future day,

my conflicted mother in our shabby mill town would find one

at a yard sale for almost nothing and be made happy by it?

be made to feel rich by it? My mother, who never went anywhere

and then died, whose jewelry box, divided by three daughters,

allowed the cameo to come into my pocket,

where I rub it nervously whenever I have to

visit the crumbling house of my father, who doesn’t look up

today because he doesn’t hear my key in the lock, sitting calmly

over his lunch soup, the kitchen filled with smoke, the forgotten

pot on the stove framing his small head in orange flames?

How likely is it I am here to see death’s net

thrown over him, to feel the growing pressure of letters carving

into epitaph, to know he’s become so light, I could pick him up

and hold him to my ear to hear the hollow sound of leaving?

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Linda Aldrich. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to www.pressherald.com/tag/deep-water.

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