Little Mother

We are, none of us, ‘either’ mothers or daughters; to our amazement, confusion, and greater complexity, we are both.

Adrienne Rich

We can fight for reproductive rights, but the broader choice is really hampered in our society by this term mother. I prefer the term caretaker, because there’s all this baggage that goes along with “I’m a mother, I identify as a mother, what kind of mother are you?”

—Dr. Kim Tallbear


A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "Even before she lost custody she questioned her maternal drive wrote to my dad after a period of absence she wanted to be a mom we respected she wanted us to love her I remember the time of that letter my four or five year old doll talk Mom lived in a cabin with a loft I remember finding her birth control her saying she didn’t want to get pregnant again a table with a town of paintbrushes & oil rags yogurt containers caked with cracked blue I don’t resent the social workers or dad’s affidavits but question the stick of decisions the rust enclosing as if the right to care for children could be awarded a medal tied tight to a neck she didn’t get to be the one home after I had the courage to speak to my crush didn’t get to braid my hair for the heritage fair on the saturday I bled for the first time into turquoise underwear I tried to clean them myself in the sink she worked hard after moving back to get the extra night of visitation picked us up after school on Tues- days made us ravioli from the co-op frozen section I needed those nights but touch was missing maybe had been missing for a while which is why it’s important that this fall we carved pumpkins at my sister’s place my niece & nephew my mom they call her Grandma Lolo my mom said she would use a gourd to make a crazy eye popping out of one’s socket it worked the gourd buldged her granddaughter let out her horseshoe laugh her steady clip-clop climbed right up into her lap bore her baby teeth seeds her eyes with- out shying my mom’s granddaughter un- afraid to touch the flush of her face her four year old voice saying I didn’t even know this was going to happen today"A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "my sister asked me to be present at the birth of her first child an honor a birth plan a midwife center 2 hours from our respective homes she would call when it was time I had just started writing I told her I would probably be able to make it even if the birth landed on my workshop I understand why she took me off the list texted last minute I’m only now wondering about the shapes we could have lived would she have held my hand what pattern of sounds lanterning the room what notes of sweat could I have folded a cold cloth infused with lavendar for my sister only other body to inhabit my mother’s body only other voice built of her cells her inhales what murmuration of swallows in the birthing pool what was marshalled to carry the other life the fist of lung with no other way to grow than to eat of the mother no other hallway dark to enter this earth"A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "About thirty Mom asked if I thought about kids my womb my fruit flies nibbling plums have to self-highlight we were fingercleaved my organs always known on the phone she was living in California I’d moved for school in coastal Carolina I relished the continental distance a difficulty reaching each other my recurring vision of the road sign that stated the miles I’d need to dissolve in her bedbugged silence I didn’t tell her I’ve always been scared to hold a baby didn’t tell her I’d resent the fragmentation of attention when she mentioned her lack of maternal drive I stayed quiet though I found myself un- driven I thought of her awkward shrink in doorways how she stood as if unworthy of love I made my voice an even shore- line protective mind flashing moonless pier glare each dizzying lamp to smear with the stooped itself water"A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "Mom texts a memory of egg rolls soy sauce sugar ‘two little girls like my cook- ing’ I roll my eyes that is where guilt lives it resides in the pulleys attached to my retinas I don’t want to be reminded of a complicated story where then does the softening flood from what makes me want to sorry starts dominos down the ribcage sets me writing her text on a post-it typing as if to distill the gone-room’s smoke how she let us help her showed how to dip fingertips in the water dish to seal the wrappers like envelopes fry bub- bles chewy dough dragon steam & teeth puncturing garlic cab- bage carrot caterpil- lars minor burn leaves a sheen on the palm of my hand"A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "museum of daughter wouldinclude the dollhouse Mom made when my sister and I were at Dad’s for Christmas would include snowbricks from the igloo she stacked midblizzard after teaching us how to roll the snow- men would encase my ally pin & portraits I sat for in high school even if they’re lost now there would be a wall for the timeline of human history she taped to the cabin loft ceiling & kept adding to in pencil with her non-dominant hand the cafe would make bananas foster the way she did in the apartment across from the Tip Top Tavern when my sister & I weren’t eating enough two pieces of bread snagged from the counter at Dad’s before driving to work at Culver’s visitors would sit quietly in a facsimile den without furniture VHS to massage roll the loneliness before the tunnel to mimosas shared pre Dyke March cunt coloring book birthday gift at27 3cuntscoloredat38finallythe wax me would wonder if I am living out her artistic dreams because I don’t have kids with my middle class boyfriend I have so much time to create"A part of a shape poem looking like a matryoshka doll. It reads: "Dad wrote in the affidavit ‘in particular the older child feels very protective of her mother and has become a caretaker for herandworriesabouther’ this week Mom sends an invitation to her art opening I imagine her stuffing envelopes framing landscapes in the basement her old hippie friends open- ing their mail deciding whether to go mygreat tidemyvigilance how can I be anything but daughter"(Please click on the “dolls” and use the zoom function to read the poem. A transcript is available in the ALT text.)

Memory Work

a country disappearing from our hands, but that place doesn’t exist anymore

Driving Test

Decamp into ramps of small intestine twists, she says. But driving alone, you’ve always avoided highways—for the fear of breeze shaving crazily at your vehicle’s chemo head, other drivers bullying your sluggishness or the spotlessness of speed guns with km bullets aiming at your windscreen's chest.

Dark as in Lunar Silence

The moon tries to stay hidden, too, each
attempt as unsuccessful as the last.