Mess like this sullies everything:

            my grandmother will call and say Who’s that white lady
            on your answering machine?

She will laugh and I will wonder what’s missing?

            (What did I forget? What does it mean
            to lose your mother? Am I brilliant yet?)

Pretty-mouthed girl with perfect diction.

            How my teachers praised me. Didn’t they love
            my lost convention, were they equipped to raise me?

If you lose your mother, tongue,

            are you a new beginning? Will the
            breaking be for love or will you hate

whatever’s ending? Going back might kill you,

            progress is a blacklist. Your voice:
            an afterlife, shadow, fist.

Copyright © 2023 by Remica Bingham-Risher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.