- Skeleton Key
The night my aunt died, I measured closeness with my mother, translating a list of incidents when I interpreted an occasional notice in her pay envelope. We greeted each other like polite housemates crossing at the kitchen doors, one finishing a meal, the other starting. I remembered shunning her colors if our paths intersected near a school boulevard, diminishing her worth with each year of education. We tossed goodnight over our walls two hours before she started the third shift. "Hold on to yours," my cousin whispered at the wake. I am an only child so I took notes from another daughter, memorizing how she straightened the orchid corsage on the bodice of her mother's burial gown, how she pressed her face against a cheek and forgave absences to come on her wedding day, on the morning she would give birth to a son. As the earth settled on my aunt's coffin, I left my bedroom door gaping. Slivered openings became invitations to hear my mother laughing, asking "Are you drunk?" when I shattered one more dish. A compliment on her looks brought a lowered gaze and that barely there smile. I imagined blossoming children, raising violets and rainforest orchids so they could see her just before midnight.
Phebus Etienne (1966-2007) was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. She graduated from Rider University and received the MFA in creative writing from New York University. Before she passed in 2007, some of her poems had appeared in The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States, Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, Mudfish, Caribbean Writer, Beacon Best of 2000, Callaloo, Making Callaloo: 25 Years of Black Literature, and other periodicals and anthologies.