James Allen Hall

Brief History of My Mother

My mother, fourteen, makes a girl
eat an entire can of Alpo.
At forty, she leaves her husband
for a man who wears women’s underwear.
Every Friday night of my childhood, she’s criminal.
The door creaks open for the same cop, his broad smile.
Bank of America calls for Marsha Hall.
I’m not in right now, she says.
My mother, thirteen, smokes mentholated cigarettes.
The burn dissolves to a tight hiss on her thigh.
She wakes to her father’s kiss and cannot breathe.
My mother promises, The abuse will stop with me.
She tries to die, once, by swallowing pills, choking
them up as I hold back her hair.
In green pants, orange sash: Miss Safety-Guard,
1982. She blacks out her front teeth, smiles at men
who cat-call to her on the corner, her stop-sign in hand.
Their faces quicken from the slap of her unbeauty.
Tries to die, once, by standing in traffic
on a dirt road at 3 a.m. My mother, desperate for a Mack truck.
My mother asks the doctors to turn off her dying
father’s respirator. She watches him struggle to breathe.
My mother’s tombstone will read,
Gone to see my mother.

James Allen Hall
“Brief History of My Mother” is from Now You’re the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).