The Lose Your Mother Suite VI. “across the surface of my studied speech”
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.
“This poem is nestled in the center of a crown of sonnets inspired by Saidiya Hartman’s book, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. So much of the heart-work there inspired me that I was forced to continue wrestling with it as I wrote about several of my grandmothers (those I knew in this life and those who are deep in the blood). There is so much ‘mess’ to wade through as a Black American woman writer each time you delve into history. This poem is about trying to be yourself but maybe losing part of that self at the same time. It’s also about how grandmothers will set you straight any time of the day or night.”