Motherhood 1999

— Sarah Ghazal Ali

that year my mother made herself tall
     with routine, nourishing and nourishing
               my body, my bell inclined to pucker

empty and ringing. today my own
     cool fingers button tight against throat,
               its silence, years of a mouth’s refusal to open.

that spring she bartered tirelessly
     with my stone teeth. in anger she stretched
               inches red and redder, hoisted me up

onto the kitchen windowsill, overlooking the grass
     below. my mother leaned close, said swallow
               or be swallowed by the lawn
. i looked at her.

who could save me from a love that forced me full?

first triumph of her spine, the only daughter
     followed by son and son. from her palm she sliced
               miracles for me and i balled each bite in my cheek.

long island, where i can’t remember a father
     but in photographs, where uncles unfurled hands
               to catch what i spat. we slept under stars

of artificial green, her hand pressing hymns against
     my back. waiting now for spring to grow thin
               with the day’s light. her voice rising heat through

the phone, pushing me closer to the birds. i boil rice.
     measure damp years into jars. run a finger over each
               rim until it sings something bodied and full.

whittled down to pocket, kept in careful proportion
     to the hands i fell through. height as a matter of angle—
               whether i lean into a sound or away.

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