by Khadijah Queen
When your mother dies, you’ll think about all the poems you’ve read
about mothers dying. You’ll remember your sister telling you
she doesn’t want to be here anymore & all the familiar sayings ring alien,
harsh-lit, an opacity you are forced to accept: I feel like
she’s slipping away. When your mother dies, she’ll have already
grieved too many losses: her parents, her closest-to-heart sisters,
her baby brother Nick. Her son/your brother.
Steven. The echo of grief lasting
as long as the ache in the bones of a long life, longer than cigarettes
and liquor and stress might invite—
In Spring, maybe I’ll be alive again. In the fall of my future
I’ll circle the square
three times in the City of Fools. Three times
they’ve carved out my core, what they call ruined
parts of me removed and nothing
replaced. Stitches stay
unraveling. In between—
the hail, the rain, sun beating
down. In better memories, the Bay of Nice
at my right, I’ll walk far enough
for my left knee to swell. I’ll arrive in yellow
to eat veal & drink an almost-glass of Sancerre,
take the later evening
to rest. In twin dreams I forget logistics,
forget keys in cars and luggage in trunks.
I forget what goes where & as punishment
I’m stuck where I don’t want to be. I believe
a body is home for the time it breathes.
In between, the pain of what we do to it,
what we allow, refuse, endure. No one ever
told me I could allow pleasure
on my own terms. I had to decide.
In a family of madwomen & mean men
I learned how not to fail in public
but knew it would happen again. The world we belonged to
didn’t want us as ourselves, but as bodies as functions. On a map
a place like that has no ridges. It is invisible, almost—
mapped inside the violence mapped by force
inside men and their brick hands and mortared language
shutting us hard into silence. Once, someone told me
Too much smiling gets a girl in trouble.
If I protect my own teeth from the corrupting air
what happens to everyone else’s?
Once I was a sailor. I talk about it
so I can believe it. I wear all my long necklaces
at once & lace my ears with sunstone
& have only one tattoo. I love so much it all falls out,
not unlike blood from deep cuts. My grandmother
sat at the head of her dining table one Labor Day
& in a lull turned to me & said
all the people I knew are dead. Too often now
I wish for low clouds to fill the echo
of absence, to make it visually
& beautifully undefined, as we’re left
on this side of unknowing, without them
Poem copyright 2022 by Khadijah Queen. All rights reserved.