My mother sleeps in the glow of the TV screen,
one hand cupped like a pistachio shell
over her heart. I’m sitting at the dining table,

coiling her measuring tape the way she likes:
the only right way. A smooth vinyl slide,
and there is something of her perfume

about it, invisible pockets of scent that burst
when pressed, like citrus peel pierced
by a fingernail. Beside her on the couch,

my father also begins to calculate the angles
of sleep, mouth falling open: a soft,
unwritten geometry. The measuring tape

falls asleep as they do, a quiet curling,
a small white animal bathed in light.
There is more here for me to measure

than my own circumferences—
my mother’s arm bisecting her body—
the parabola arthritis has made of her hand—

the angle of my father’s slackened jaw—
the furrow between his brows, even in sleep—
the vast distance between us as we are now.



Julia Armstrong