The First Rough Grind

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Churning through the first rough grind,
the slurry of coarse grit and violent impact
tearing sharp edges from rough stones.

The groaning racket of my rock tumbler in
the utility room is not loud enough to mask the
clamor of angry voices from down the hall.

Flashlight in hand I slip my head beneath my pillow,
pull my blankets over the top, seek a quiet
other place within the pages of a book.

Then my mother is there, lifting the blanket’s corner,
peering beneath and holding her face close to mine,
Put your shoes on and come out to the car.

She speaks as softly as she can over the tumbler’s growl.
I’m in my pajamas, I say, but she’s already gone,
into the dark, down the hall to my sister’s room.

In the car, me in a jacket and pajamas in the front,
my sisters asleep under a blanket in the back,
she rolls silently down the hill, starts it up.

We drive to the A&W by the movie theater.
It’s a thrill being out at night, under the streetlights,
ordering from the sign, eating in the car.

The girls are sleeping and mom isn’t talking
so I drink my root beer through a bendy straw
and eat a Teen Burger five years too early.

Mom doesn’t eat but she sips a milkshake,
watching the cars slip by, never looking my way,
glancing at her girls in the mirror now and then.

I catch a glimpse of her face lit by orange neon.
Tears gleam on her cheeks. She’s so good at it now,
she can cry without a sound, I hadn’t even known.

Are you okay, Momma? I say, but she’s silent for
long minutes until she asks do I want to go home now
and I don’t know how to answer. She drives.

It will be days still before I open the cylinder,
rinse off the grit, turn the tumbled stones in my hands,
then add the finer grit, then the finer still.

There are weeks yet to come of battering each against
the other, until the day I dump it all onto the lawn
and lift each gleaming polished rock to glisten in the sun.

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