An artist always signs her name,
my mother said when I brought her my picture,
a puddled blur of scarlet tempera
I thought resembled a horse.
She dipped the brush for me
and watched while I stroked my name,
each letter drying, ruddy,
permanent as blood.
Later, she found an old gilt frame
for me at an auction.
We repainted it pink,
encasing the wobble-headed horse
I’d conjured as carefully
as if it were by da Vinci,
whose notebooks on art
she was reading that summer.
Even when I was six, my mother
believed in my powers, her own unsigned
pencil sketches of oaks and sugar maples
flying off the pad and disappearing,
while her French pastels hardened,
brittle as bone in their box.
Which is why, when I sign my name,
I think of my mother, all she couldn’t
say, burning, in primary colors –
the great, red horse I painted
still watching over us
from the smoke-scrimmed cave of the mind,
the way it did those first years
from the sunlit wall in her kitchen.