Mother: A Vivisection


I am 6 years old with a floppy Holocaust picture book from my parents,
a childís introduction to torture and mass graves; our family history
on too much display. For all the big headed skeleton children
the cattle cars and piles of hair, there was one picture:

A hillside, a man with a rifle aimed and cocked
the dangle of a childís leg from the insufficient arms
of a woman who has stopped running.

She has turned and offered up her useless back.
I am still holding my breath, waiting for the bullet to crack.


The bodies were stacked,
still warm and limp like soft white towels:
Clean and patient lessons, each.
I didnít know I had picked a pregnant rat
until she lay open before me on the black paraffin tray,
her belly muscles yielding to my clumsy knife.
And there they were: a tiny council,
semi-circling her belly; plump
and full as grapes seven pink

It took almost no effort,
just a pinch and small tug,
to pluck each one free.


This is where it comes undone. The years
held together for boys who took and could never give
enough in return. The occasional flailing limbs of the dead
that would not stay dead. The Gestapo boots at the foot
of the bed each night, asking for polish. The childrenís
boney fingers that begged from the fridge,
but would never eat.

This is how her husband forgot her name,
even though she fetched it for him each morning
with his coffee. How she still breaks herself open
on his grave. How you keep ghosts like family,
and family like burdens. This is how
she holds pity by the throat:
Photos on the nightstand of her grandchildren,
eclipsed by the forest of orange bottles.
Crashes the car twice in one day. Sleeps till noon. Tells no one.
Pays someone else to wash her hair, three times a week.
Keeps up appearances at the luncheon
while her family takes away her pills.
Clucks her tongue when she notices
they even found the stash in the glove box.
Picks up her methadone from Walgreens.
Tells herself:
Only black and Mexicans become junkies.
This is how you stay strong for your family.

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