For My Mother on Mother’s Day: A Poem Made of Wounds

This started out as a response to a writing prompt, but somewhere along the line, it morphed into something of a cathartic exercise.

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., and while I wish most of the mothers in the country a happy day filled with love and family, I can’t help but think about my own mother, her recent illness, and my traumatic childhood.

 

For My Mother on Mother’s Day

From the first day — no, scratch that
Even before I was born
I wasn’t enough for her.

Looking back, I think
What she wanted was
Another dead baby
To cry, to be consoled over
Because it was her way.

I remember being tiny
Watching her back as she left
And wondering
Why she didn’t love me.

Perpetual motion
Peripatetic
She was a wanderer.

I couldn’t put words to my pain
And good thing —
I asked once
As a young girl
She fixed on me
The most hateful glare
And she cried
Not for me, but for her.

She asked how I could say
Such hateful things
To accuse her of being
Less than a good mother.
Hadn’t she done everything
For me?

She brewed guilt in my lungs
I drowned in it —
And the asthma
I got from her smoking —
She told everyone who would listen
Tales of my heartlessness,
Of my cruelty.

“She was the coldest baby I have ever known.”

It seems maybe
The apple didn’t fall
Far enough from the tree
To lose any of its bitterness.
I gave her back
What she had given me.

But still I tried
I toiled for years
Made sacrifices of life and happiness
To make her love me.

When she said those final words
Over a text message, no less
The last of the warmth in my heart
For her
Was gone.

“I fucking hate you,”
“I’m dead to you.”

Spiteful venom.
Later, she begged
Forgive, forget.
But how?

My father called this week
To tell me she’s dying.
I grieve his sadness and
He’s the one I worry about.

I try to make myself feel
Something
Anything
For the dying woman
Who gave me life
Then tried to suck it all out of me
Day after day.

I find that I have no more tears
No more grief
For the woman who died
So long ago.

 

picture of a toddler girl with a puppy
The author circa 1986 with a puppy.

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