Published on Academy of American Poets (

The mother finds her own wild, lost beginnings deep within the body of her daughter

 after Jacqueline Rose / after Chen Chen

she fed me 
clothed me
kept me
safe albeit
in excess
five layers
in spite of 
winter heat
so much to
eat I needed
digestive pills
to ward off
the stomach’s 
sharp protest
how not to
utter the un- 
grateful thing: 
that I am 
her object

that the
poet who 
wrote this
saved my life: 
parents &
the most
common of 
a street 
where they 
can meet 

How I
that street
would appear
I kept trying
to make her 
proud of my 
acumen for 
these words
have not
been for
I wrote
to find
the street 
where we
might meet
again & now
there is relief
guilt or blame
but they are 
nearly always 
you are born 
into the slip-
stream of
your mother’s 

if someone
had told her
that the last 
thing a young 
mother needs
is false decency
courage & cheer 

she might not 
have hurt us
both but what
to do with 
remorse &
love that comes 
unbidden like a 
generous rain
how to accept
her care after
the storm is there
a point at which
the mother is 
redeemed the
child forgiven
can the origin
story be re-told
transfigured into
the version where
the garden is always 
paradise & no one 
need ever fall
out of grace


Copyright © 2019 by Mary Jean Chan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote this poem last year as I was completing my debut poetry collection. I was re-reading Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), alongside Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty (Faber, 2018). The voices of Chen and Rose became a kind of co-mingling, which, alongside my own thoughts, eventually took the form of these thin, compressed, rivulet-type poems I had first come across in Emily Berry’s second collection Stranger, Baby (Faber, 2017). I wanted to explore what happens in the aftermath of reconciliation, especially between a mother and daughter whose coming out as queer severely tested their relationship for several years.”
Mary Jean Chan


Mary Jean Chan

Mary Jean Chan's debut poetry collection is Flèche (Faber & Faber, 2019).

Date Published: 2019-09-02

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