Tag Archives: mothers and daughters

Living Apart

Last semester I apologized for all the poems I had been presenting with loss in them. In choosing poems, I look for story, dualities, feeling, images, truth and relevant subject to the world we live in. If you’ve ever been in a book group you know the best discussions result when there isn’t full agreement about how delightful the book was. I don’t look for disagreement, but I do like to stir the pot, especially when making a hearty stew.

The following short poem beautifully offers a big story. The layers help pull good writing forth.

Living Apart                                                                                             Lynne Knight


My mother is not a person I can ask about sex.

Her body is like a building she has driven past

on the way to somewhere else, not paying

much heed. She knows the major stories,

but that’s about it. Until she fractured it last year,

she had no idea where her pelvis was.

She speaks of her insides, her plumbing.

But she is not a stupid woman,


so I can talk to her about need.

She knows about the spirit, having lived apart

from the body for so long. She says I mustn’t be

too greedy. She loves me, but then there is the world.

The cold place, she calls it. If I could talk to her

about sex, I could ask her if she thinks I crave

the spirit like a lover who just uses you,

takes and takes and then leaves—


if that’s what she means by my greed.

We all need something, she said the other day

when I visited. She was looking out at the woman

who walks up and down the street all day long

like someone who’s lost her door.

The poor soul, my mother says, and waves,

though the woman can’t see her.

I want to know if the hollow my mother feels then


is the same as I feel after sex, like watching

someone lose the body altogether in the distance.

But when I talk about my love, simple things

like how he fixes salmon, a little lime and butter,

cilantro, my mother looks away, as if I’m talking

of sex in disguise. So, instead I sit quiet, like spirit,

thinking if I practice living apart from the body,

my greed for hers won’t break when she’s gone.

Swear Words

I’ve been wanting to resort to swear words all week. Here are two good poems to help you deal with whatever is frustrating and they are great as mood setters for any upcoming time with family.

Swear Words                                          Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Even now I laugh when I see the look on my mother’s face
when I swear in Tagalog. I have no idea what these phrases
really mean, but they’ve been spattered on me since I was still
a fat, bawling baby—and scattered onto my head when I’ve toppled

juice glasses on white carpet or come home past curfew.
Sometimes even the length of my skirt or driving her through
a red light produces ones with a bit of a gasp, a wet sigh
of disapproval. Now I catch myself saying them out loud

when I knock my knee against the coffee table,
slice a bit of my knuckle with paper. When I asked her,
she told me one phrase meant ‘God,’ so of course I feel guilty.
Another is ‘crazy female lost piglet,’ which doesn’t even

make sense when I think of the times I’ve heard her use that,
and still others, she claims, are untranslatable. But the one
I love best is Diablo—devil—pronounced: Jah-blew! She uses it
as if to tell me, “I give up! You do what you want but don’t

come running to me,” after I tell her I bounced a check
or messed up a romance with a boy she finally approved of.
Diablo! Diablo! Here comes a little red devil, tiny pitchfork
in hand, running past the terra-cotta flower pots

in my mother’s sun room Diablo! Diablo! And still another from behind
the kitchen curtains, a bit damp from the day’s splashes of the sink.
Today when they meet, they dance a silly jig on the countertop, knock
over the canister of flour, leave little footprints all over the place.

Hell Pig                                       Aimee Nezhukumatathil


To keep me from staying out late at night,

my mother warned of the Hell Pig. Black and full


of hot drool, eyes the color of a lung—it’d follow me

home if I stayed past my curfew. How to tell my friends


to press Pause in the middle of a video, say their good-byes

while I shuffled up the stairs and into my father’s waiting


blue car? How to explain this to my dates, whisper

why we could not finish this dance? It’s not like the pig


had any special powers or could take a tiny bite

from my leg—only assurances that it was simply


scandal to be followed home. When my date and I

pull into my driveway and dim the lights, we take


care to make all the small noises that get made

in times like these even smaller: squeaks in the seats,


a slow spin of the radio dial, the silver click of my belt.

Too late. A single black hair flickers awake the ear


of the dark animal waiting for me at the end of the walk.

My fumbling of keys and various straps a wild dance


to the door—the pig grunting in tune to each hurried step, each

of his wet breaths puffing into tiny clouds, a small storm brewing.


Writing Prompts:

Do you have a favorite swear word(s)? Are there swear words particular to your family?

Write about someone trying to hide scandalous behavior from someone else.

Write about curfews a person, a town, or region that has a curfew.

Write about something that lurks in the shadow. If you like anthropomorphize it.

Write about someone who would dance if you got into trouble.

Write about preparing to spend time with family.


This poem is a powerful tribute to ritual and its meaning in our lives. It has a powerful and tender ending.

Salon                                                                                                  Robin Becker


Acolyte at the font, my mother

bends before basin and hose

where Jackie soaps her fine head,

adjusting pressure and temperature.

How many times has she

bared her throat, her clavicle,

beside the other old women?

How many times the regular

cleansing and surrender to the cold chair,

the sink, the detergents, the lights,

the slick of water down the nape?

Turbaned and ready,

she forgoes the tray of sliced bagels

and donuts, a small, private dignity.


Vivienne, the manicurist, dispels despair,

takes my mother’s old hands into her swift

hands and soaks them to soften

the cuticles before the rounding and shaping.

As they talk my mother attends

to the lifelong business of revealing

and withholding, careful to frame each story

while Vivienne lacquers each nail

and then inspects each slender finger,

rubbing my mother’s hands

with the fragrant, thin lotion,

each summarizing her week, each

condemning that which must be condemned,

each celebrating the manicure and the tip.


Sometimes in pain, sometimes broken

with grief in the parking lot,

my mother keeps her Friday appointment

time protected now by ritual and tradition.


The fine cotton of Michael’s white shirt

brushes against her cheek as they stare

into the mirror at one another.

Ennobled by his gaze, she accepts

her diminishment, she who knows herself

his favorite. In their cryptic language

they confide and converse, his hands busy

in her hair, her hands quiet in her lap.

Barrel-chested, Italian, a lover of opera,

he husbands his money and his lover, Ethan;

only with him may she discuss my lover and me,

and in this way intimacy takes the shape

of the afternoon she passes in the salon,

in the domain of perfect affection.

Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She’s 16

Little do we realize when we have children, that we will one day be changing ourselves to please them. Other people who think they are wise will project into the future and lay problems onto our relationships. They ask pesky questions. Who knows? Maybe the daughter will understand poetic license and freedom of speech. And, that a parent is a full being in their own right.

Then the poet warns the daughter that she will always be there watching that she takes care. And motherhood gets a lot darker than it seemed at first.

Great images and resonance, there is much to enjoy  and think about in this poem.

Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She’s 16

                                                                                     Beth Ann Fennelly

Daughter, the light of

the future is apricot,

and in it you are not

the thigh-child pointing

her earnest index finger

to the yellow balloon clearing

the willows and drifting

higher, you’re the balloon. I’m

the grasping hand. Or I’m

the oo in balloon. I’ll meet you

there. I’m the brown

strings, formerly violets, you

didn’t water. I’m the hole

in the photo, you’re the un-

safety scissors. I’m the lint

in the corners of my purse

after you steal the coins,

brown-bag lunch you pitch

after leaving my house, buttons

you undo after I’ve okayed

your blouse. Poems

you burn in the sink. Poems

that had to go and use

your name, never mind

that soon you’ll be 16, hate

your name. I’m the resemblance

you deny, fat ass

you hope your boyfriends

never see. I’ll meet you

there, that is my promise

and my threat, with this

yellow balloon as my

witness, even if I’m

dead, I’ll meet you there.