To my mother, the enigma

What happened the day you named me? Were my cheeks olive and tired from resisting the light, chapped from an extra week spent in a womb tired of carrying babies for two years in a row? Were you defeated in your name choice, relinquishing your secret favorite in lieu of the name he picked? Or were you sly, my grandfather’s birds in the old language we still don’t know is ours or not ours?

I remember you in green—the same jade I remembered from the Emerald City, but the gem of mystery—the day my brother was born. I remember wanting the angel in green. You came from a room and seemed sad to me, but maybe you were just tired, as I know now that mothers can be after birth. But maybe you were sad, because with two you could have fled from him. Now there was another anchor, a tiny thing to take my place. I remember the light behind you I thought was heaven, and you hugged me—maybe the last one I remember—and then the grandmother said not to bother you. That was the first time I knew I bothered you. We left the hospital and I didn’t know who I didn’t bother for 38 years.

I wonder who the other girl is, the one you really named. I think I see her sometimes. She rides horses and is stronger than wind. She loves the fog like I do, but never knows when it will come. She reads books. She writes poetry. She grows old. She stops reading. She stops writing poetry. She lives outside and sleeps in tents. She doesn’t dream—she does. She never cries. She talks, but at the right time. Her skin is your skin—young skin. She has freckles and red hair. She is Ireland and made of black rocks.

What happened the day you named me? When my black hair and blue eyes stared at you and didn’t cry, did you think I was confusing? When my hair turned brown and blond and ash and red and black again, did you think I was a daemon? When my eyes turned into the fog, did you remember I was a bird? I was a jay, trained only for your hand. I was the lighthouse, the foghorn, the storm arriving at the wrong time, but always the right time.

I don’t have your hands, but I have your words.

I recorded the races with my brother and the migraines that guarded your hours with us. I recorded the winters you tried to drive me to Lafayette in an old, white, beat-up station wagon and apologized to me when it couldn’t make it. I recorded the sadness of a vomited ‘I can’t, maybe next time,’ even though I knew there wouldn’t be one. I wrote the memory of the year I turned nine and you drove me to the skating rink during the ice storm for my January birthday. I remember almost dying twice that day. I recorded your driving, the slow way you tried to go down the hill because he didn’t leave us the better car.

I recorded the cats I brought home, one with a flattened lower body you nursed until it died. I recorded your face when I ate paint for the third time, oil for the first, and smelled the television ‘just in case scratch and sniff technology was a thing, because you never know,’ twice. I recorded the many days you played piano and the few you would bring out your flute, always hearing the story of how it fell on your face and you had that weird fake tooth until you didn’t. I remember asking why your tooth was weird because I forgot. I recorded the mole and the mystery of the glass penny jar wallet we could never retrieve the treasure from. When we did we would be rich and take you somewhere else.

What happened the day you named me? Was it my name? Was it the name of many children, the name of a bad marriage, the name of music and art and Jesus? Was it a girl in a book with a spoon that didn’t disappear?

Am I winter?

Am I what you made me, a mother?

2 thoughts on “To my mother, the enigma

  1. All mothers are an enigma, I suppose. All others a mystery. You write this so beautifully. Thanks for the imagery, and the questions. That surreal way you have of writing about reality that is so elusive.


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