My Mother Knows I’m Not Religious

Michael Beard

Digging is like prayer if prayer
begins in the knees.

My mother is digging in the garden again,
kneeling beside a pink box,
a baby robin inside, bent out of life.

I want to believe birdsong follows us
even into the earth, chanting steady,
steady to our bones.


My mother’s hair
weeps the petals of cardinal flowers.
All over the bathroom floor

I find the brightest hue of red, flaming
and departed.

Why we leave is what I’m afraid of.


What part of our body holds up the sky?


The angels my mother collects have angels.
And those angels, too, have angels.
There are enough angels to go around, she says.
Some are made from driftwood,
some tattered cloth, others
broken clay or plastic. She piles them all
in the corner of the living room,

giving them to people she loves
as a kind of tradition, her special offering.
Here, she says. This one is yours, and she hands
me an angel with a hole in its chest, a quilting
pin piercing through, keeping it from falling apart.


What part of the sky holds up our body?


Winter has my mother stuck
in its throat.

Like a hymn.

The moon tucks into itself,
late office.

Snow on night water.


My mother talks to God about my heart’s fallen statues.
Each time she does, night swallows
another way home.

I met hunger’s gaping mouth
the day shadows occupied my mother’s eyes.
Her face fell into black soil,

sunk with the beetles and earthworms,
where it now lives beneath my spine’s

abandoned church.

Michael Beard (he/him) currently studies poetry at the Bowling Green State University MFA program and serves as the managing editor for Mid-American Review. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Baltimore Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Moon City Review, and other places. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @themichaelbeard.

© Variant Literature Inc 2023