Laura Maher

Self Help as a Competitive Sport, 2011. Mixed Media: Photomontage, Digital Painting, Acrylics & Watercolor. Liz Huston.



I learned young how to wash my dishes remnants not taken to

too kindly in my family more focus on the whole the present

moment you see I was loved very much in my family

this is not an admission of anything I was loved I learned my chores


I drank full glasses of pure white milk my plate partitioned

into sections so food would not touch I was a particular one I never wanted

the broccoli to touch the beef but when my fork tasted of applesauce

as I ate the mac and cheese I rejoiced in a small unexpected pleasure it was mine


alone those pleasures those remnants you see I wanted secrets I learned to love

the sink because my father did he would come in straight

from the farm red earth or grease still on his jeans and begin

the dishes it was my mother who did the laundry but we all knew


how hot water could transform a thing it was precious

I would wash my dish clean in the kitchen sink it was yellow deep it was

facing the desert and its secrets once when I was small enough to be washed

in that sink I watched a mesquite get hit by lightning twenty feet from me


my small hairs my small body charged up but something made me

sit there still my mother screamed the tree broke in two pieces on fire

I was pulled from that sink still dripping that electric water that risk there was

barely a storm that was what she said barely a storm she would never


wash her baby with danger like that                        later the tree was rooted out chopped up

presumably burned though I don’t know the complete story after that

Disease Process


The lion of the body

is its undoing: whatever

power possessed him

in youth objects

now, as if within

his thinning skin

lies an animal.

The work is never done.


(My father’s body

like a recovered memory.)


He falls. The table catches

him by the face,


He falls. Face it: nothing

catches him, not even

his own body.


Hands to brick—more

bloodied spots to clean.


The line of the body

does not break

as I thought it would,

as if I had considered

the breaking at all

before this.

Talking to Strangers


How a voice from a stranger surprises                        the sound coming from a throat

unknown, unworldly                        sudden noise, or

a break in silence (as my own voice is always there)

(if I hear my voice as a noise at all that is)


A deserted platform            the boy asks a question and I must remove my headphones

to hear                        he tells me his good news and I respond

that’s good                good for you                        good to hear                        good the salve

of conversations between strangers            his voice the tool

of connection                         he’s seeking something but I don’t want him

to follow me onto the train as he does                        all I want is out

of the conversation I’m not really having

his voice something volatile               pleading            something I’ve wanted to soothe

though I can’t name where I’ve learned every interaction with a stranger

is something to fear                        a man and a woman talking


My father says I lost the thread of that thought I hear my voice remind him

of his place            a chapter mark in the narration he has taken up

these last months            his voice the reassurance of his life            all the good

he has done             my father talks and talks and I learn how

a voice can swallow all the space

my instinct is to stay quiet             make space for someone else

in this conversation

but that is the instinct he’s railing against            the silence threatens

to command him back


eventually            unprompted            the boy on the train did fall quiet

American Football

                        a Triptych




No one tells you the most blunt,

brutal edge of degenerative diseases:


the long stretches of boredom,

conversations of loved ones


who are often avoiding

the very fact of death,


or acknowledging it over

and over again, too much,


and there’s nothing to change it.

Televisions are also now found in hospital rooms.






My father won’t have to face us,

listening to the football announcer


tell detailed descriptions

of the exact visual representations


of green fields, men in blue and yellow

against the men in red and black.


Everything is in HD. I still cannot follow

the rules of football. Never have, and now,


with the added technological advancements

—a graphic swooping in to show


it is the 2nd, with 10 yards (in yellow)—

I don’t have to; I can carry on


with the vague sense that the ball

needs to move one way up the field, where


players will or will not score, and then back

down the field, where it begins again.


I do worry I am not being kind enough

to America’s pastime. I worry I am unkind


to my father. I often, forgetfully,

leave the room with two minutes to go.






A person working for the broadcasting company,

somewhere, probably New York, built


the graphic that glides onto the screen.

Someone else added the soft swooping


sound to accompany it. In the hospital,

the newest technology is to route


the television’s speakers into the same remote

which lifts the bed and calls the nurse.


Sounds and voices can be easily muted this way,

and two televisions with different programs


can be on in one room.

                                         I love television.


Before this, I liked to imagine that a whole day

spent in bed watching television would be heaven.


I can understand now how it might grow tiresome,

how appealing it might be to call the nurse


instead of changing the channel.

The voices in the rooms next door,


and their assorted machinery’s hum,

call out through the night. He doesn’t sleep.


That’s what my father can speak of

in the morning, when I raise his chin


softly towards the light, that morning light

streaming in from the window, to shave his face.


That, and the score of last night’s game,

which I remind him we all watched.