I knew my mother was god when I was five

by Ashley Mallick

She sat me down, clasped our hands together,
rounded her shoulders and said the lord’s prayer.
I repeated it to God’s deaf ears, reciting chant-like,
the way she did, burning the words into my tongue
until they fell like wet pennies onto my mattress.

I was sure god had lied to her, had heard her prayer,
cast about for something special, and found me wasted,
quailing at the bottom of the sack. He spray-painted me
gold and wrapped me in heavy paper and when I squalled
from her womb he left her to me without a word of advice.

My mother married again and it was love and her love
collapsed her bones and molted her skin with thick layers
of bruises. When her doctor sat us in his office her excuses
were a stratum of stairs and door knobs, silk scarves
she pulled from her mouth. They colored the doctor’s eyes
the same glazed cherry as the sucker he gave me before he discharged her.

My mother wanted this marriage with a deep tenored longing
that shook loose everyone, but me. Because I was her reason,
she would whisper when she lay next to me, waiting for me
to sleep. I was what god had given her to keep going,
I believed I was born to keep my mother alive.

So I prayed to my mother. I made her paper flowers with glue
that didn’t dry and kissed her face and hands and cheeks,
leaned on her, until her arms towed me closer and I could breath
in her hair without smelling the liquor that coated her tongue.
I saw how, rounded in her mouth, truth could change.
I learned that I could speak those loving lies baldly, sweetly,
until men parted like a sea
and I was a god
and my mother was damned.

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