Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The 19th Amendment & My Mama

I always took it for granted, the right to vote
She said
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship 
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?

My mother survived a husband she didn’t want 
and an addiction that loved her more 
than any human needs

I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment 
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
but alas

The thirst of an almost anything 
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids 
than possibilities

On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t

In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same

Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady

& every day he tweets grief  
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts 
like a red light signaling the end of times

The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart

My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes

My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens

Every day there is a telephone near 
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans

The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing 
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?

Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again 
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain

I ask my mother what hurts? 
What hurts? 
How can I help from here?

3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea 
& the Mexico borders

My mother sighs a little sigh & says
Nothing
I just wanted to hear your voice

Credit


Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“I am in the business of writing about my mother’s story. I once wrote a book about my parents falling in and out of love. These poems were pulled from the ribs of stories and memories from our family members, they served as witness. Ever since, I’ve made it a point to talk to my mother about her own stories and her own memories. When I think about the 19th Amendment, how it is large and almost mythical in its existence, I reach out to my mother and ask her about what she remembers. She is usually unconcerned with the poem that erupts from our conversations. She says that remembering the stories take her to a place she has long since forgotten, and my poems put her back there, to that negative space. I tell her the best poems invite us to reflect on what we’ve endured and survived. People like my mother and I are not often celebrated in a poem, I want my mother to understand even her most mundane, dismissed and nearly forgotten moments are worthy of being written about, memorized and taught as American history. I am her living archive and this poem is spilled blood, returning to her warm body.” 

Mahogany L. Browne

Author


Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany L. Browne is the author of Redbone (Aquarius Press, 2015) and Black Girl Magic (Roaring Brook Press, 2018), among numerous other books.

Date Published: 2020-03-21

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/19th-amendment-my-mama