I’m always too moody for the party. I talked to Ryan about this and we can talk about this endlessly. That is because Ryan is a good man with a good sense of the sentence. I told Ryan at the barbecue, “And so on and that’s how it is.” I said, “You’ve always got to keep on going until you’re dead. And when you die some folks will give a hoot and some others will give great hoots. Still others will fall somewhere in the middle. You will possess no great works. Where does something fall when it falls in the middle? It falls all around us, at night, in strides. I had a feeling in the fingers the other day. They weren’t my fingers. I told Dr. Addleson about it. I told him for the second or even the third time. I felt so dejected, I fell into a hole. At the bottom of the hole, my mother was there. She was peeling carrots. She was married to Rebecca, who had given her many great children.”
I will have to be frank with you—we’ve already gotten this far. My mother left me and my father left me and my mother left me for a shorter period of time. You could debate whether that was her fault though that seems cruel to do here and—a mother is a mother—political unrest a history of instability personal errors, etc. Such is like. I can talk about you and I don’t have to know you first. I get tired, I say, I want to tell the whole story. It’s cumbersome. Who said this, who said that. My god, this is going to need so much editing. Which I say because I missed thinking about you. It would be misleading to end this paragraph here. I’m trying not to
My mother is twenty-six. I am six. She has just left her first husband. I go to school. I go to the girls club after school. We live in a rental house which is old and divided into sections that are different apartments. It is located across the street from the girls club. At six I walk across the street to my new house. My mom gets ready for work. She leaves at eight to drive to Indianapolis for school and clinicals. She has just filed for divorce and started at a respiratory therapy school. The woman who lives upstairs is responsible for me. I do not remember what she looks like. I think it was a situation where if there was a fire or known break-in she would consider that I am home alone.
This is what I remember.
My mom would ask me often about how her body looked in contrast to another woman’s body. Do you think that I am about the same size as that woman? Does my hair look kind of like hers? I have just quit smoking, can you tell? Do you think my face looks different? I just answered honestly, without thought.
When I enter a room, someone pokes me—says something about my body in general, or a specific part, but often in an indirect way like girl, you gotta eat more.
I sit down to write and I think about the apartment. Meeting my mom for the first time—as a woman who is able to communicate freely, removed from an oppressive marriage. And me—old enough to be cognizant of the changing form of mother as a lonely figure. My mother is talking for the first time. She still does not know how to hug me. And we—the apartment with three rooms and a bathroom. The only room that has a door is the bathroom. The ceilings are high and my mother lets my pet rat named Bob run freely, as he is the only thing at night that makes me feel protected. I remember envisioning Bob growing in size when my mother left for work, the sun starting to set. I believed this to be true.
This was the year I gave away all my possessions to the kids down the street. My mom did not notice for three days. She came into the room and asked me how many days I had been wearing that purple baseball shirt. I said I do not know, but it’s the only shirt I have. She then looked around and saw that I didn’t have anything in my bedroom. It all seemed so temporary.
There were these moments where I kept hiding my mom’s cigarettes inside of the aluminum foil roll. I took the cigarettes out of the box and filled the cylinder with them, then placed the roll back. I always left one or two because I was afraid she would get angry or really sad.
On the nights where she slept with me in the apartment I would crawl in her bed and listen to her heart beat. She seemed sick and worn down. I worried she would die. She was the only person I had. I would ask her questions like, if you die what will happen to me? Do you think Bob would come back if he got out and ran away or do you think he would be excited to be free and forget we exist?
In the closet of my mother’s room, which was the middle room in the house, I went behind her clothes and I pooped in a cup. She was in the bathroom with the door closed with her new boyfriend. They had been in there a long time. She had been screaming. I thought maybe he was killing her or hurting her. I knocked lightly on the door. I was afraid of him. I waited in the corner with the cup for a long time until they came out. Then I snuck in the bathroom with the cup avoiding them and flushed it down the toilet. I took the cup outside and buried it in the side yard. I dug until it got dark. I did not talk to my mom or her new boyfriend. I just went to bed and Bob curled between my feet at the edge.
One night, Bob bit my mom’s new boyfriend in the balls. He screamed and said he pissed himself. I assumed that he peed from his balls. The moment that a child realizes change exists in big ways and nothing is really stable and you can lose—a massive weight in the heart forms. I understood my mom’s new boyfriend was human when he too screamed. Screams easily pressed throughout this apartment with no hallways and no doors, just three rooms and a bathroom.
The Bitter Old Woman
the bitter old woman tends to the burns on my hands. i say to her, ‘you remind me of my mother’ and i think she is becoming softer as she smiles at me and, taking her hand with mine, pours on top a pot of scalding black blood and says, ‘now i’m reminding me of mine.’
emily dickinson would eat a bowl of cherries every morning on her bed. she would spit the stones behind her between the headboard and the wall. she danced from room to room wearing her favorite white gown. she asked her father to ‘politely refrain from interrogations regarding menstruation,’ but in a way that he knew that she really wanted him to ask. her sister’s legs were two different lengths at the time. fruit flies would gather around the cherry pits. at night she would masturbate herself with a crucifix of wood. during the masturbations she imagined herself in the desert being raped by god. this was the only way she could cum, because of the purity of it and because of course, she was still a virgin. one day her mother came into her room and said, ‘emily what is this there are fruit flies coming from cherry stones on the floor under your bed.’ ‘mother,’ she replied, ‘tell me something i don’t know.’
The Infantry of Mothers
the infantry of mothers march through the streets armed with echoed moans of childbirth leaving in their wake acidic new-mother fluids. a young boy runs after his and she turns to scold him saying, ‘leave me my son, a trench is no place for a child.’ breathless, he pleads with her, ‘but mother, i wish to know for what are all the mothers fighting.’ but knowing it too dangerous he is sent away to leave her there with all the other mothers, the child never knowing that she answered him forgiveness
The House Is A Wheel
Do we mock our mothers?
Is Paris a city?
— Alicia Ostriker
I’m not sure how to begin.
It seems to have begun
before me. They say
we all become our mothers.
It’s not an inability
to hook into free will, which
has been disproved. To look
at us from some enormous height,
to watch the whole thing
turning, I see it’s not that,
I think, rather,
it’s been disapproved.
She draws her hands up to her chin
and presses the skin, turns to white
the beds of her fingernails. The ring
is there with the faux emerald
I bought her for twelve dollars,
one Christmas, my birth stone or hers,
I can’t remember. At the fair,
I catch her watching the giant wheel.
She’s watching me.
We’re both still. She looks so far
and I do it too: push the curb
of gums under the cheek
my four fingers
There is a comforting scent
that quickly spoils
when I think of her
going now through her sixties
how one might slip down
a flight of stairs—
darkness then bright glimpses
of things past, my face, perhaps,
a baby’s pudgy hands,
her husband, and the ferris wheel
in Paris she never saw but gratefully
replaced with hundreds of parks
and county fairs.
The night keeps it all.
We pass by everything
that has and hasn’t
and won’t happen
like riding glass elevators
through the dark,
as in dreams,
where we meant
to send them.
what a proud failure
it’d be to become you.
In your house, that is their house,
women sniff like exhausted dogs
for that trap door to crash through
to gulp finally the potential and certainty
that takes the form of some noble tone
we can’t quite hear. And the men,
they see straight through us, through the house,
how gas moves through the earth,
breaking us easy into the delicious sip of sky.
I fall through another floor
finally to her room. Dreamcatchers
and mirrors hang in every corner,
and in each dim corner,
a mock path to another corner
another black mirror’s
In them I trace the tucks
of light on our face.
I push through,
nearing the center.
The dark reflects
back on itself, a spectacle
gorgeous and haunting
in its own annihilation
I am exhilarated
and scared, despondent
and desperate, I grip
the white bar like an arm
across my lap
as the wheel takes me to
and from her.
My mother and I got two plastic bags’ worth of groceries
from a church basement every other Thursday:
Zip-locked baggies fat with sugar and flour, sagging
loaves of white bread a week past their expiration
(though never fit for human consumption),
creased cartons of dried milk dusting everything
else with a fine chalky silt, and dented 46oz cans stripped
of their labels like the mystery flavor—sometimes pineapple
juice, or, my favorite, pulpy yams in heavy syrup.
My mother drove there without a license in the silver
Mercury that eventually gave out on 75N,
the steering wheel coming off in her hands. How
she made it home, I never asked, just remember her
coming in and standing there starting to sob
while my boyfriend and I tried to find
what to say after having each taken two tabs
of acid not quite an hour before.
When she had finished crying, we helped her
put away the food pantry goods she somehow
remembered to take out of the wrecked car. And this
is what I remember: pushing the things we’d gotten
before further back into the cabinets, knowing
we had little use for them, but thankful anyway
for something to fill the space with.
Mother Who Didn't
Mother who didn’t.
My baby-frailty was not enough to bind you to my body.
Yellowed skin and eyes,
my sudden blurted cry, the hole
I made of you.
Mother who didn’t.
Why’d you mix
a big screwdriver
in a thick
robin’s-egg cup, gulp then fall sleeping
like a putrid angel, to a tangled blanket
in the den-floor?
I found you when I pecked open the door,
slunk past your rumpled body and slurped the bitter juice.
Who do you talk DOS to?
Bathed in RGB-screen’s flicker?
The computer’s plastic shell is an off-white oyster.
You say he’s down the street but now he’s on the couch.
I don’t let you talk to me.
Mother who didn’t.
Why was this not the right place to land?
Why let the babies run through you like chicks through the kill-shoot?
Why did you slap me when I tried your perfume?
Why is this all I remember?
Mint and leather. I remember
your chest, sun-spotted and tan with small gold chain dangling.
How you must have held me there, loved me there sometimes.
Mother who didn’t
take children to school.
Woke with phone’s under-bed shout.
Chalk-mouthed, limped the house, found us gone, garage agape,
lunch money still on the counter where dad had left it.
on bent-knee in bathrobe
Hand-wringing in front of the bay window.
Our stomachs flipped
when you lunged headlong into the yard
Then beat us your worst.