Say what you want about my mother/ I know

her cruelty knew no bounds


never a warm hug

kind word

every year when school came/fall

I looked at the flyers of back to school clothes


I wore rags/hand me downs

As soon as I worked she made me pay rent

and that was the message engraved into me

instead of being taught responsibility

I was taught I owed

her rent

the ground I stood on and had no rights

My father’s neglect

The patches put over his eyes

not to see

never a book


She suffered from mental illness

was selfish

Through blinds

Through stories I get glimpses

Say what you want but she is the greatest fighter

She is going now

She cobbles out a life from the women she watches on housewives shows

Their competition

My neighbor buys a wreath

My mother buys a bigger one

She tells my father when I visit

Strike up the barbeque

She buys corn

pretends it’s a party

I see she has lost weight this visit

the depression she believes there is a man coming to destroy things

and there are bugs

She constantly buys poison

I know I can’t talk to her about depression/the drugs

So I say as gently as I can

Keep your spirits up/ then you will gain back the weight

On the morning I am leaving

She dresses up in nice clothes

And a pair of coral earrings I gave her

She said she’d been skipping meals

But on the morning before I left

perhaps just as a child to show me

She piled her plate full of scrambled eggs with ketchup

And she ate.

From Funeral Diva (City Lights Books, 2020). This poem originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail. Used with the permission of City Lights Books and the author.