by James Kerr

As we ate in silence the meal
she had made for us, my mother
stalked the sweltering kitchen,
swatter in hand, killing flies.
Outside, the cicadas' song
rose and fell like the tide.
It was too hot to move, to speak.
Too hot even for the flies,
which sought shelter inside.
They were everywhere --
swirling about the bulb overhead,
batting themselves mindlessly
against the brittle window pane,
buzzing past our ears like engines.
My mother dispatched them
with machine-like efficiency:
a whoosh through the air
like a sparrow fleeing a bush,
then a sharp whack on the stove,
on the sink, on the sill, on us.
"Hold still," she'd say,
and before we could protest
down came the swatter
hard upon our shoulder.
"Got it," she'd say.
She rarely missed.
She had plenty of practice
with an endless supply
to slip in doors we left open
or through slits in screens
my father never managed to fix.
Broken black bodies lay scattered
across the room as on a battlefield.
Some when struck fell on the table,
which my mother quickly gathered
into a tissue to toss in the toilet.
"For God's sake," my father'd say,
holding up his fork in disdain,
and my mother would laugh, lightly,
like a breeze through the window,
then move on to the next.

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