Renee and I, hers—in the urn by her desk
and mine—alive in an apartment forty minutes
from here, probably watching a telenovela, frying
plantains, texting me goodnight. Renee’s mother isn’t
really in the urn. She’s in the blue wall,
the beach landscape painting, the dog
barking at the unexpected, the jangle of silver bracelets.
We are all carrying our mothers, and we are all better
daughters with the dead. She tells me I am wise,
and all I can think about are the moments of my unwiseness: driving
and sipping margaritas from a water bottle, the bruise
on my arm and taking him back. Her husband
is away at the family cabin, and she is glad
for the space. My husband doesn’t exist, and I am
sad for the space I make my home in. I buy sunflowers
and goat cheese, throw a dinner party for the ghosts.
I don’t know Renee’s mother’s name to send a proper invitation.
I don’t know the names of the women in my family
past my great grandmother. How will I call upon them
when it’s time? Will I call them Mary or Venus
or Yemaya? I’ve yet to burn the palo santo, the sage.
I want to leave behind a legacy of light.
I want to leave someone better.
Copyright © 2022 by Diannely Antigua. This poem appeared in Narrative Magazine, 2022. Used with permission of the author.
I have no answer to the blank inequity
of a four-year-old dying of cancer.
I saw her on TV and wept
with my mouth full of meatloaf.
I constantly flash on disasters now;
red lights shout Warning. Danger.
everywhere I look.
I buckle him in, but what if a car
with a grille like a sharkbite
roared up out of the road?
I feed him square meals,
but what if the fist of his heart
should simply fall open?
I carried him safely
as long as I could,
but now he’s a runaway
on the dangerous highway.
Warning. Danger. I’ve started to pray.
But the dangerous highway
when I hold his yielding hand
and snip his minuscule nails
with my vicious-looking scissors.
I carry him around
like an egg in a spoon,
and I remember a porcelain fawn,
a best friend’s trust,
my broken faith in myself.
It’s not my grace that keeps me erect
as the sidewalk clatters downhill
under my rollerskate wheels.
Sometimes I lie awake
troubled by this thought:
It’s not so simple to give a child birth;
you also have to give it death,
the jealous fairy’s christening gift.
I’ve always pictured my own death
as a closed door,
a black room,
a breathless leap from the mountaintop
with time to throw out my arms, lift my head,
and see, in the instant my heart stops,
a whole galaxy of blue.
I imagined I’d forget,
in the cessation of feeling,
while the guilt of my lifetime floated away
like a nylon nightgown,
and that I’d fall into clean, fresh forgiveness.
Ah, but the death I’ve given away
is more mine than the one I’ve kept:
from my hands the poisoned apple,
from my bow the mistletoe dart.
Then I think of Mama,
her bountiful breasts.
When I was a child, I really swear,
Mama’s kisses could heal.
I remember her promise,
and whisper it over my sweet son’s sleep:
When you float to the bottom, child,
like a mote down a sunbeam,
you’ll see me from a trillion miles away:
my eyes looking up to you,
my arms outstretched for you like night.
From Mama's Promises, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1985 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
They came from the municipalities the cantones the in between children of campesinos day laborers drudges. They crossed water and deserts and left children elders husbands. They were children lovers spouses mothers elders vagabond escapists. They prayed in the back of trucks so hard the virgin mother revealed herself at checkpoint to offer the miracle crossing of another boundary. Something was happening to them. So much had happened where they left. They changed the swelling cities but the cities changed them. They gathered burn marks bruises on their arms in kitchens in hotels in other homes. They hid their names behind other names. They learned and did not learn new language. They crossed themselves waiting for buses car rides late night early in the morning. They entered apartments at twilight where they laid beside sisters friends lovers. What were they dreaming as they slipped into their kitten heels hair cut short madonna-like lips painted red dancing in the discotecas downtown uptown outside the loop. They guarded pictures in their purses. They guarded themselves. They married for love married without it and they did not marry. And they loved they learned and they did not love. Learned to find and tuck themselves into their secret seams. The many things they would not tell their children. With illicit seeds they grow what they left behind among the brush little stems memorials now adornments at their windows.
Copyright © 2023 by Maryam Ivette Parhizkar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.