Karaoke Night At The Asylum

By Jennifer Givhan

When I was eleven, Mama sang karaoke
at the asylum. For family night, she’d chosen

Billie Holiday, & while she sang, my brother, a
fretted possum, clung

to me near the punch bowl. I remember her
then, already coffin-legged—

mustard grease on her plain dress,
the cattails of her hair thwapping along

with the beat. The balding headstones of the
others—quarantined

from their own mothers & sisters & daughters—
I wondered if they, like us, were strange

alloys of sadness & forgetting
the words to the songs. I was a grave-

digger then. A rat fleeing ship.  Mama,
who hadn’t sung to me since I was a baby &

never would again, was the lynchpin— I’m still
turning & turning the screw.