My Mother Told Us Not to Have Children
She’d say, Never have a child you don’t want.
Then she’d say, Of course, I wanted you
once you were here. She’s not cruel. Just practical.
Like a kitchen knife. Still, the blade. And care.
When she washed my hair, it hurt; her nails
rooting my thick curls, the water rushing hard.
It felt like drowning, her tenderness.
As a girl, she’d been the last
of ten to take a bath, which meant she sat
in dirty water alone; her mother in the yard
bloodletting a chicken; her brothers and sisters
crickets eating the back forty, gone.
Is gentleness a resource of the privileged?
In this respect, my people were poor.
We fought to eat and fought each other because
we were tired from fighting. We had no time
to share. Instead our estate was honesty,
which is not tenderness. In that it is
a kind of drowning. But also a kind of air.
This poem first appeared in Rattle (#42, Winter 2013), where it was given the 2013 Reader’s Choice Award. It was also selected for the 2014 Pushcart Prize XXXVIII Best of the Small Presses.