“What has got you so afraid?”
My mother is pretty great
at cutting to the chase, and though
she is a vegetarian, I get my razor tongue from her
(“Don’t write that! log kya kahenge? enn pati enna nenepa?”)
Hers is more intuitive; she doesn’t know
when she’s being vicious.
She sees me maybe twice a month
and easily slips into my insecurities like
a skin closer to my body than my own, because
that is what mothers do, apparently.
“Nothing you’d ever understand,” I say,
and it’s calm, but there is venom in my voice,
she flinches, and looks confused.
But let me explain:
I am Charlie Brown in this scenario.
And she is an inadvertent Lucy who doesn’t realise how often
she snatches that damn football away, and with it
the skin off my feet leaving me blistering in bitterness for days afterward
until suddenly, it’s years of resentment.
And I am done trying to play football with her.
I know what this is what it has always been, what it will never be.
I can’t talk to you about whiteness, without being told inadvertently! always inadvertently! that I am willfully constructing my brownness, my caramel skin, my cinnamon breasts, my chocolate pussy and why oh why can’t I just assimilate. “It can’t be that bad. Stop looking for race everywhere.” Yes, because I’m in a race to find race and I must WIN!
I can’t talk to you about men, without being told I am unloveable and must compromise. “How will you find anyone if you’re like this?” Because of course, I’m on the hunt! Like Artemis, searching for men to turn into dogs, or dogs to turn into worms.
I can’t talk to you about capitalism, without being told my father runs a business. “How can you say such things?” Newsflash: Dad doesn’t own Wal Mart.
I can’t talk to you about love, without being told I don’t know how to love. “What do you know about love?” Admittedly, nothing. I can’t remember because – .
I can’t talk to you about the only man I have ever loved. “You need to adjust.” You need to shut up.
But I have learned since those games of pick up (fall down?) football, put down feet, raise my arms and hands, palm up, in surrender:
I have given up on conversations. You taught me that.
But I have learned:
I can’t talk to you about my body oh god my body.
“Has something happened to you?” she asks, hesitant. I
am standing, feet, on cold bathroom tiles, soles (yes soles, the bottom
of my feet, this poem is about the bottom of things, no not my bottom, not souls, stop that shit)
remembering the chill, of another bathroom somewhere else,
there is not enough room here and if I tell her,
her tears will drown us both.
The better parts of me:
This bathroom is too small for this conversation. I need more time to answer a question like that. I don’t think… we should talk about this. Why would you ask me this in a bathroom?
The worst parts of me:
You don’t get to fucking ask me shit about shit.Yes, now get out.Yes, and it’s your fault it happened.Yes, and you taught me that hurt is all there is when I confide. And what good would that do me? Well, I think staring at a wall would be more useful, quite frankly. You know, given the choice between speaking to you again and not, I think “not” more often than not. You don’t know me.
(there are more things worse about me than good. at least
of what I can remember)
When I was younger, I thought my mother’s obnoxious
exasperating, cruel, nasal, bullshit, unfeeling, fucking cold, useless,
naive, unknowing, ignorant”I told you so”
was the most hurtful thing, but actually: silence
is always the most hurtful thing and I am a million times better
at that than she is(and the men I meet
are a million times better at it than me!, because I have poetry, you see, and art and music
and other outlets she encouraged while always telling me
I was playing piano too loudly and why couldn’t I play anything happier or faster,
and why couldn’t I share my poetry with her).
My mother (I
am used to waiting months without
My mother likes answers on her terms – and I should really
learn this skill from her, even if it makes me dislike her,
women can’t afford to be concerned with being liked;
my mother always knew this.)
was many things, but never cold.
Coldness requires intention, and my mother, is many things
but intentional is not how I would describe her.
doesn’t know shit about shit about my life.
But my mother
knows a lot about a lot that I don’t.
“You don’t trust me anymore,” and she is crying,
wails of melodrama, a panic I can feel from the miles between us
(maybe the bathroom is big enough)
“I trust that you love me,” I say, carefully.
And then, I understand what my mother needs to hear:
“I love you” the words are there, easy and clear, careful and
I mean them. I am intentional with what I say.
I am hugging her, holding her.
I call this progress.