I Ask Mama Why

"I Ask Mama Why"

she puts ketchup on red beans and rice.
Mama unveils cobwebbed years and says
"that’s what you did if you were poor
and ate the same shit everyday."

I ask Mama why
she paints perfect mouths on her porcelain dolls
when her own mouth is dirty as a canal.
Mama lets out a deep laugh and says
"it depends on where you grew up
and what you never had."

Mama curses with a certain ease,
makes four letter words sound
like southern comfort, her voice
like husky Jazz notes,
and her Irish Channel vowels,
resonating City Park blues.

Mama teaches me
the Quarter’s history.
She points to chipped cornices
with a weathered hand
and tells me that as a girl
she rode the streetcar for a nickel,
sipped Barq’s root beer
in a glass bottle beaded
with sweat from the sweltering
midday heat.

I ask Mama what beautiful is—
she can only sigh in response
for what’s been lost.
Heavy, her breath is a language
I don’t yet know.