My mother chooses china at the Salvation Army,
her thin blonde hair wound in a bun, light strands
springing from its knot, as she journeys down each aisle.
The many unwanted vases and teacups without saucers,
divorced from their kitchens and dins. Baskets stacked
on a high shelf hold an inventory of air. Objects
that are a consequence of the geographies
of many houses and women. My mother is an excavator
along these avenues of failure. Never mind nicked edges,
the mismatch of flower motifs. Each plate costs a quarter.
She calls this 'a steal.' From vats of army issue utensils,
a nickel each, she chooses six forks and butter knives.
Nothing can be given back to the basements and attics
whose smells acquire a ponderous reach on the secondhand
of the bent and broken that still works. She leans her head
into a deep silver pot and blows away a layer of dust.
From an old trunk, she draws out a black-framed Chinese
symbol for "happiness," a crack runs through the middle,
and for fifty-cents it belongs to her already.
Amber Flora Thomas is the recipient of several major poetry awards, including the Richard Peterson Prize and Ann Stanford Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Calyx, Gulf Coast, Bellingham Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among other publications. She has an MFA in Poetry Writing from Washington University in St. Louis where she won an Academy of American Poets prize and a post-graduate teaching fellowship. Her first collection of poems, Eye of Water, won the 2004 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2005.