Friday, June 29, 2012

To my mother on her birthday

(I wrote this poem about eight years ago. I don't know why I never posted it on this blog but here it is now. Love you Mom.)

It comes most in the dark of morning
The remembering of stories you never had to tell
Truths about Daddy I would find out soon enough anyway
Or not
Luxuries you could not afford
Because he gambled the check away sometimes
He chased women sometimes

What you had to swallow
Hearing us cheer as he came through the door each night
Each night that he came

Daddy's home!
Daddy's home!

But where were your cheers
I don't remember your cheers
The ones for you
For you!
Not even in my remembering
I don't remember your cheers

For what it says now
I'm sorry

I remember once he tore up your shoes
Right there at the kitchen tabe
That did not match its chairs
Amidst our screams
Daddy stop!
Daddy please stop!

Your brown wooden heeled woven shoes
So that you would have to buy yourself a new pair
Not a brand new black baby Tabitha
That would tell me she loved me
As long as I pulled the string
As long as I didn't pull too hard

Not a toy whatever for Roshann
Who had to have something
Because I got something
And it's not my birthday either
And that's not fair right?

I was mad at him with you for that
Today I remember it his highest act of love for you
The other good that came
From Schlitz malt liquor and Mary Jane

Our lives are so parallel
Yours and mine
Like you
I didn't know that I was beautiful
He told me I was pretty
And sometimes I believed him
The random hims
The ones that came and went

From you I knew that I was smart
A smart girl
You made me believe that I could write
That someone would hear my stories
You gave me that

You learned to fry chicken
So that you could teach me
Because black girls should fry chicken, right?
We stood there on 70's style green stove
On brown and white linoleum diamonds
You, really wanting to finish building the bookcase in the den
Me wanting to practice my cursive

I do not like chicken
You taught me lessons bigger than frying
Bigger than black girl chores
I watched you and I became woman
I sat in the hallway on brown and beige shag carpet
Leaned against red leather Britannica encyclopedia set

I watched you in the bathroom
That I helped you paint baby blue
Only in my remembering
I do not recall ever holding the brush
I stared at the tight curls that formed your high afro
Watched you put on black eye liner
And soft Maybellene red lipstick
You were so beautiful
I wanted to look like you when I grew up

I wanted that nose
That was round and sharp at the same time
That could always smell a lie
Those lips...that smile that forgave
Always forgave
Perfect lips
My remembering says
I did not want mine quite so perfect
I do remember that very clearly

And your shoulders
I did get your shoulders
Those shoulders that seem to carry the world
Why do we do that
Carry the world
Nobody asked us to
But we do

I never told you that you were beautiful
We were not mushy women
We were smart girls

I do not remember your kisses
Rather I do
I remember your kisses
Nervous each one like a first date
They came on birthdays and mother's day
And Thanksgiving after prayer

I understood then that you were not huggy and kissy
Neither was your mother towards you

We are shoelaces
You and me
Coming in and out of holes
Twisting, knotting up
Wrapping into pretty bows
Holding on tight
Coming apart
Wrapping up nicely again

You made it look easy
The tying and untying
I know that it wasn't
It couldn't have been
You must have extended your prayers each night
After you got up from your knees with me
Long after I was sleep
As I do now with my own child

A boy
One boy seven years now
Not two girls
Just four years apart
Children should not know our prayers
When they are children
They deserve at least that

You braided my hair
Before you learned to braid
I was nine and honored with your handy work
Only I didn't know it then
But in the files of my memory
I am honored

Proud you ket me little girl
The phone was off sometimes
The lights were off sometimes
Not often
But sometimes
There was always however enough money for
Cheerleading uniforms, hot dogs at night games, piano lessons
And press n curls that cost too much
Even for then

Did you think that I did not know
A smart girl like me
Who could not fry chicken
This poem was intended to be haiku
A birthday wish to slip between the gift and card
But a daughter cannot write a haiku
About her mother
Especially a daughter
Who is a writer
The remembering takes over
It has a mind of its own
There is always a line that must be added
Just as I go into Albertson's to get only Kings Hawaiian bread and chicken
My son likes chicken
And leave twelve bags full

I wish you kisses on this birthday
We are mushy women
And strong at the same time

And we get to be weak
When we are tired
And always always
We are beautiful
Like fish who keep moving through endless ocean
And fire
And built and burned bridges
And the healing and accepting
The loving of our remembering

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