the drunk mother

by Chelli Riddiough

her mother wasn’t watching when she fell,
sarah on the swingset, little hands
(which should have held another’s)
holding chains
while behind the window her mother’s
uncapped a bottle by the kitchen sink.
sarah loved the spinning world, letting go
losing all weight and tumbling to earth
scraped and laughing, scrambling up again,
until the time the swing caught on her hem.
she knew her arm was broken, felt the bone
like a message in a bottle, floating free.
she ran to her drunk mother, the nurse,
and crying told the woman that it hurt -
“why don’t you rub some dirt
in it,” she said.
so sarah went outside and kept on swinging,
holding the bad arm to her overalls
she didn’t know her mother’s milk had been her poison:
made her bones weak, and scarred her teeth.
two weeks went by in that manner, timeless,
like the weightless gliding of a swing
that lost its rider and yet kept on moving
no one there to listen to its squeak.
two weeks, and her mother glanced up at dinner,
saw her daughter picking at her ham
and with a look of drowning, turned and asked her,
“why are you eating with your left hand?”


back to University & College Poetry Prizes