My Mother Wrote Poems

Our mother raised us
from a worn recliner
slouched in the corner
of the living room, a bottle
of gin tucked gently
beside its frayed upholstery
and beneath the burned arms
scarred by late nights
and drooping cigarettes.

My sister and I
were elementary school
vandals who drained
the bottle when she left
for the bathroom, filled it
with water, and watched
her sniff the cap and confused
stumble back to sobriety.

The end of the month
meant a week without gin,
a clean house, and a visit
from the social worker
who wanted me to smile
about upcoming birthdays
and the surprises they may bring.

My birthdays brought
my mother back to her chair
where she offered me
construction paper cards.
The handwritten poems
placed carefully inside
spoke in long lines of verse
about love and pride
and her first-born son.

But I never smiled.

Today, I sit on hard barstools,
bent over glasses of rum
and napkins scribbled with poems,
and I think about those cards,
the poems they contained.

My mother doesn’t keep
a gin bottle close anymore
nor write poems for her son.
But she always sends me
a birthday card, and I always
open it and smile.

–“My Mother Wrote Poems” was first published in Samsara Magazine in 2008.

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