Skin Deep

I sheered the black sheep,
That wool itched so, anyway.
It weighed me down in the heat of your indifference.
Woven cloak of your shame.
Your shame,
My other name.
Awarded to me like a trophy,
By you, my referee
How dare I not do as you did,
Unpresentable me.
Not draped upon the arm of a rich man,
Not sipping from a golden shoe.
Pride is a subtle thing,
A fragile wing on a tiny creature.
And subjectivity forgotten,
In the law of your land.
The tragedy of funerals had,
with empty graves.
Burying the dead,
while they still walk and talk,
But not to me.
And what beauty I inherited from you,
You, who bore me here.
I can only show
In pictures
and a looking glass.
Faded memories
And broken dreams.

The Good Mother

You lay upon me,

so small and heavy,

as I shook with the strain

of your shimmering arrival.

Tenderly, I held onto you,

crushed by the weight of

my duty,

awed by the power of my love

for you,

this delicate creature,

a part of my body,

yet separate,

my child hand huge

in your miniature grasp.

Together, we forged new discovery.

Each of us traversing terrain,

foreign,

I sheltered you from monsters and villains,

fought them off,

or tried to,

enraptured by your

blossoming mind,

ravenous curiosity,

enduring pursuit of

the next adventure.

My love a cavern,

so deep and loyal,

I could get lost in it,

reminding myself I

had to let go,

to not strangle the flower,

to not cage the bird,

yet how could I know,

that with my love freely given,

you would cast me off,

like so many spurned belongings,

boxes of things

left behind

as you hopped from place to place,

me,

who smiled as you tasted your

first fruit,

your face alight with wonder,

who hugged herself,

arms tightly wound,

as you were carted away

for the first day of school.

Discarded,

rendered mute,

by the coldness

of your indifference.

You buried me

in a grave

of your Self.

Proserpine

Can they not see

the darkness that surrounds you,

swept away, you were,

to another of your “Firsts”,

though unlike your first steps,

your first smile,

your first kiss,

you are thrust under

the arm of Hades,

struggling against the unseen walls

of Earthly fortress,

like Ophelia, drifting away

to nothing,

no longer a babe,

though they think you

a child still;

This threshold of

the unwilling bride,

wed we are to

the darkness of

transition,

never knowing the other side,

or if light will greet and restore us,

or leave us buried in a

cold hard grave,

I shudder for you,

at the sentiments

echoed

“these are the best years of your life,”

and

“you have everything ahead of you,”

and

“you have everything going for you,”

for though they see you as a child,

you rock and tremble at the

mountain and force building

within you,

yearning to be free,

not knowing where to run,

just run,

only,

alone is the only truth you know,

and solace flows as tears in the night,

silently,

not knowing why the dreams

that gave you comfort

died,

leaving only ashes in their wake.

You are lost in a sea

of familiar faces,

no one seeing you

as they smile as

they always have.

Not knowing that your

robot smile

only echoes their blindness,

as you walk the halls

as a ghost,

haunting your

child self,

not yet free,

not yet ready,

just

waiting.

For can they not see

that your pain is as real

as anyone’s?

Your darkness as

dark,

and frightening?

And though your mother’s voice

calls from the Earth above,

it gives no comfort,

for you are away,

not the child you were,

and

not yet the woman

you will become.

Never being warned

of the silent screams

of the blooming flowers.

Tomato Summers

“It seems a bit cannibalistic to eat a tomato,” I said, squinting at Raina in the bright summer sun.

She paused, her brown hair glinting with its summer sheen.

“How did she get to be fourteen?” I thought to myself.  “She was just a baby.”

“Mom, you’re so weird,” Raina said.

I smiled at her freckles as she tossed her bangs to the side of her dew kissed forehead.

“Well, think about it,” I said.

I pinched a plump red orb still clinging to its vine.

“It’s kind of like a babies butt.  All smooth, and firm,” I said laughing.

“Now you’re just gross,” Raina said, but her mouth twitched at the corners, and she turned and looked over at the fence.

“I see you smiling,” I said quietly, pulling the tender tomato from the vine.

Raina continued to stare at the fence that surrounded our garden.  She got to her feet and picked up the yellow tabby from the other side of the fence that had been swatting beans through the slats.  For a moment she was a little girl, hugging her kitten to her face, her hair cascading over its swatting paw.  The cat jumped to the ground and ran off―her childhood following close behind.  She turned toward me.

“Can I go over to Gina’s?”

I stood and brushed off the front of my jeans.

“Is her mom home?” I asked.

“Yes, Mom!” she snapped back.

I regarded her a moment.

“Be home at eight,” I said.

“But it’s summer,” she said with a whine, as if her childhood had sneaked up again behind her.

I gave her the mom stare.  She did her best to match it but I had years and two kids on her, and she had barely even felt a hormone yet.

“Fine,” she said, turning and stepping over the fence.  As she walked to the house I watched her arms swinging defiantly, then gradually moving in a rhythm that matched the songs of the birds in the trees over her head.  The sun seemed to wink at me through the branches in a knowing way.

I let out a long breath and returned to the tomatoes, pretending my back didn’t wince as I lowered myself to my knees.

It felt good to be out of school for the summer.  I had two more years to go before I would graduate and hopefully find a job.  Somehow we were making it.  It had been three years since Jason died, and the insurance money was stretched tight.  I missed him so much.  I took a bite of tomato, letting the juice drip off my chin before wiping it with the back of my hand.

I didn’t really care that much for tomatoes, but god, he had loved them.  I took another bite, feeling closer to him as I chewed.  I looked around the garden―his garden.  The girls and I had kept it going since he’d passed, but it was getting harder.  Mel just graduated high school and was working and getting ready for college, and Raina was getting too busy with her friends.  I sat back on the ground and tossed the rest of the tomato against the fence.  The sun waved as it dipped behind the top of the house, and I smiled back, trying not to notice the tear that had slid slowly down and come to rest on the crease between my nose and cheek.

I put the last tomato in the basket and stood, shaking the stiffness that had settled over me onto the ground with the dirt and straw.  My hands found their way to the hair I had pulled back and absently adjusted the band.  I looked at my hands, and slid the skin on the back of one with the thumb of the other.  I was seeing myself watching my grandmother do the same thing when I was small and sitting with her at her kitchen table, the summer I had stayed with her on her farm.  That had been my favorite summer―taming barn kittens, chocolate soup, and catching fireflies in canning jars.  I remember the rattling of the cicadas that cascaded through the air, and the smile that would wake up my face when the roosters began to sing in the early morning before the other birds had thought to.

I sat down on the swing, not bothering to dust if off from the absence of little girls.  Why was it that an empty back yard was so much easier than an empty house?  I looked at the huge basket of tomatoes I had set by the slide.  I would bag them up and take them over to Mrs. Lynn’s and Mrs. Saddler’s that evening.  None of us like tomatoes very much, but Mrs. Lynn and Mrs. Saddler both like to can them, despite the fact that they were both well into their eighties.  I understood, though.  Being busy made another day pass.

My old friends don’t call anymore.  They didn’t understand, and I didn’t want to explain it.  It’s funny how people have about a two week limit for someone else’s grief.  First there are cards and flowers and casseroles.  Then, just as the numbness starts to wear off, there are a lot of awkward glances and long silences. You haven’t even started feeling the mountain of pain and they are starting to make excuses why they can’t stop by.  I figured it out after about four or five months.  We hide death under our doormats in this society, like an old rusty house key long forgotten.  We know it’s there, but we’d rather keep trying to scrape it off our shoes and stay all snug and warm in our houses, pretending it will get old and rusty like that key.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll never have to lift that mat to find it.

I leaned back on the swing as far as I could stretch and lifted my toes off the ground, closing my eyes to the clouds that swirled between the dancing branches of the big old maple.  I didn’t hear her at first, but then pulled myself up when I heard Mel calling out the back door.

“Mama,” she called, and I smiled at the way she still called me that at eighteen.

“Coming,” I called back.  I grabbed the basket and walked toward the house like a kid called in for supper.

I looked at her and wondered at the grin she had on her bronzed face.  She laughed and kissed my cheek, and I looked around the dining room as she slid the glass door shut behind me, blinking the sunshine from my eyes in the dusky room.

Raina came around the corner following a cake with smoking pink candles and dark brown frosting.

I stood puzzled a moment, trying to think of the date.

“Happy Birthday, Mama,” Mel said, taking the basket from my arms.  I looked at her with surprise and she guided me to the table.  She and Raina started singing and I sat watching as they turned into loving women before me.  Raina ran out of sight for a moment and returned with a large box.

“What in the world…” I started to say, but Raina thrust the box onto my lap and Mel pulled the top off, both as excited as they were on those first Christmas mornings.

Staring back at me was a tiny face of fur, shiny and black and wiggling to be free of its cardboard confines.

I pulled the tiny puppy out and it licked my nose.  I couldn’t help but cradle it to me, and looked from Mel to Raina through a mist of tears.

Mel pulled the hair back from my cheek and Raina bent down and kissed the other.

“Happy Birthday, Mama,” they said.

As She Walks Away

The glint from the axe head

blinds my eyes

through my tears.

The razor edge

of that big metal head—

is it pointed at her neck?

Her lithe, youthful, beautiful neck?

The neck that I cradled in my hands at her birth―

the tiny head,

that I held so gingerly,

so protectively,

so that I could gaze into her giant deep brown eyes,

astonished by the depth of my love…

That neck?

How can it be that my hands hold nothing but air now?

That her big brown eyes look at me with confusion,

with defiance,

with absolute denial?

That my warnings go unheeded,

as she turns away from me

and walks

toward the hands

that hold the axe handle so expertly?

I close my mouth and let the last few letters

from my last spoken words

hit the floor with a Ting!

Ting!

Ting!

as the door closes after her,

the warning spinning around my head

instead of taking residence in hers.

My body trembles,

my throat dry,

my heart

broken

and sinking.

Numb,

as the air in my hands

grows cold.

The Truth of My Unmaking

I wish I’d never been born.  I wish I’d never been born.  I say it like it’s a torrent washing over me.  It has become my mantra.  It has become my whole life.  How can I describe the blackness that is not the color black?  How can I describe the blackness that is this void?  A blackness that has sucked away all that I ever was; all that I ever dreamed; all that I ever felt that was not pain.

I don’t know if it would be considered suicidal to wish you were never born.  I suppose it could be so, but it just seems a whole lot, well, tidier in the end.  The thing is, when I lay in my pool of sorrow and dread and chanted my divine understanding, my eternal damnation, my one and only form of solace, I never expected to discover that someone was listening.

Someone was standing on the crest of the precipice looking down on me, down on my crumpled, iconoclastic martyrdom; down on the twisted form of my idolatry, and he (everything was blurry, so it may have been a she) nodded their head as if in harmony with the apocalypse of my being and before I could even swallow I found myself hovering over my very pregnant mom.

Oh, how beautiful she looked, I considered in my hovering.  How radiant and peaceful, rocking her swollen self with her propped up feet and feathered fan.  I remember that rocker; the one my Grammy had passed to her; the one that had been made by the hand of a proud expectant Pa.   I found myself doing something I had all but forgotten how to do.  I found myself smiling.

I remember the song she was humming as she fanned with one hand and rubbed her belly with the other.  That was the song she hummed when she used the same hand to rub my forehead.  That was the song she hummed when she tried to hide her worry when I had the fever and she washed me down to keep me cool.  That was the song she hummed when she hugged her arms and watched out the window, waiting for my brother to come home from the war.  When he never did, she told me I was all she had now.  All she had.  I.  Was.  All she had.

There she was, telling the cat to get down from the pile of blankets on the baby bed.

I watched from my hovering as she ran her hand along the crib that would soon be filled and then that’s when she grabbed her stomach and fell to her knees.  That’s when she gasped and I saw a look cross over her that I’d never seen before; a look of terror as she grabbed herself and a moan of pain came over the place that had been a smile just a moment ago.

Here I was, a witness to my unmaking.  Here I was, the cause of it, too.  That’s when I realized that I was not just me.  I was not just myself, but I was my momma’s baby girl.  Somehow not being here had just been my lot, my call, my decision, my understanding.  Somehow, I had forgotten that I was not just my own, but that I also belonged to someone else.  Someone.  Else.

In my panic I knocked over a lamp in my unconscious.  I ran as fast as I could backwards in my hovering.  Backwards with a hope that I could somehow undo my undoing.  Somehow unmake my unmaking.

All I could think to do was hold my breath, and the farther away I got from myself in my haze of understanding the more my entire being screamed a silent scream:  Let me be!

I was confronted with a state of suspended regret.  From the depths of my forgotten self I pleaded with the being that had witnessed my approximation of bewilderment to let me be born, let me be miserable, just don’t let that woman lying on that floor lose what she had been loving before she even knew me.

She loved me before she knew me, and better still, she loved me after she knew me, too.

And he listened (or maybe it was she), and Momma caught her breath and smiled with relief.

I, in my hovering, whispered:

I

Love.

You.

Tomorrow’s Yesterday

A mother is a daughter,
An answer and a question,
Sometimes a statement of fact
or feelings never spoken.
History repeats itself?
In veiled form, for those looking.
Why do we keep forgetting?
We don’t want to remember.
But you have all those pictures
and other little clues boxed
and put away under beds.
Shh–that is for just in case
or a very rainy day
or a cold, long, sleepless night.
Well, wouldn’t it be better
to spend the time together
long before it is too late?
Is my hand too old to hold?
Not for me, sweet, not your hand.
Aren’t hands made for holding on?
Your were always very smart.
I’m just like you, just like you.