The Poem My Mother has been Waiting For

I knew it was over before he said it.
The way his eyes looked, cautious at the edge of fear.
It was that night we’d been driving through Cincinnati,
stripes of black and orange glow stroking our shadows as we crossed the bridge.
He said the writing was on the wall,
so why did I keep erasing?
And I knew not to answer.
I just clasped my hands
said my prayers
and quietly wiped the chalk dust away.

I don’t think you would have liked him anyway.
I convinced him that midnight drives are meant for going faster.
That we can blur the lines that imprison us
by defying the red lights that tell us what to do.
You should have seen us that night.
I’m telling you, we were invincible.

You must feel vindicated, Mama.
Because you “told me so”
Because you saw it coming.
He was always too whole to clean up something so broken.
He didn’t know it was quicksand until I refused to let go
dragging him with me as I started slipping after the climax.
He was a trespasser in my tragic love story
who didn’t deserve to be let down, to have his heart broken.
Out of pity, you would have spared him my story,
erased him as a character,
rewrote the ending.

But let me tell you something, Mama,
That you might have missed in the footnotes.
Let me tell you that you certainly told me so.
You certainly saw it coming.
That I tried to save the story,
tried to print instead of scribble,
that no matter how I tried to reword the plot,
I couldn’t change the ending.
Let me tell you what you missed
because apparently you couldn’t read between the lines.

His slate was too clean for the crumbs of chalk
that I tried desperately to piece together in my hand.
But I still wrote with all I had.
My penmanship is impeccable,
Mama you’re the only one who can’t read it.
The friction between chalk and slate bind the path of my hands,
and I’m seeking clean lines but they blur at first touch.
So I wipe it all away but the chalk marks stay.
Then I try harder and harder,
but they just won’t… go away.

I am a stain, a scar.
Mama he said I am a hurricane.
Eyeless, unstoppable:
I have a mind of my own, I do not tread lightly.
I am the foolish step-daughter of Mother Nature
who mistakes chaos for a celebration.
I don’t seek to destroy, only to rearrange.
I seek change, a renewal
That I will never achieve for myself.
I can’t help it that you want me to leave only footsteps
but instead, no surface is immune to traces of myself.

Mama he said I was brilliant,
He said my IQ is too high,
my voice too loud,
my eyes too lively,
for a girl whose heart is his hands
after he grabbed it off the ground.

Mama I’m drowning.
I’ve been drinking up all the knowledge
shoved down my throat from your hands
ever since my father left only questions
and you went searching for the answers.
And I have been conditioned to keep treading,
to stay afloat even when there is no “light” left in me.
And I finally have to spit it all out.

Mama I’m learning binaries and algorithms,
tracing Greek and Arabic on every flat surface I know,
but the only problem I can’t solve is myself.
Where did I go wrong?
Why I will never be good enough for you?
I make the same mistakes on purpose,
because they’re the only things I can figure out.
And for so long I’ve been trying to solve this puzzle,
but you’ve taken the corner pieces away.

Mama I am chaos carefully classified as entropy
Scribbles defined on a plaque as art
Marbles dropped around the hall
as I’m heading towards atonement,
when you announce this is a game.
I am the blur in that photograph
where you make out a faint smile.
To you, I don’t make sense,
because I’ve got his eyes and your smile,
a sharp tongue and no heart.

You catch me tearing out the pages,
so you think I’m destroying art.
But I’m only trying to start a new chapter
with what’s left of the strength in my hands.
How many pages do I have to rip out
before I’m granted a second chance?
But this book is bare with only a spine,
it seems I’ve ripped everything out by now.

He said the writing was on the wall,
why did I keep erasing?
My penmanship is impeccable,
You’re the only one who can’t read it.
I lost him when I couldn’t stop erasing
when I let the papers’ lines imprison me
when I stopped for your red lights
tried to seek out the light at the end of your tunnel.
And you won, like always Mama,
when we couldn’t write within your lines,
when the chalk dust of your approval slipped through my hands once again.

Because he spoke the same words to me that night
that you’d been telling me forever.
Be better, you said.
I’m trying.
I’m trying.

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And you tell me that you don’t know what you want, that you just can’t color within the lines right now, you can’t put a finger on it.  Because you’ve got that rockstar sway, that killer smile, wide-eyed, bright-side, daring to contest me, the non-believer, the jaded, the tough, raw, roughed. You think you can challenge me, you think you can keep me at arm’s length. Close enough for a hug when needed, but I’ll always be there.

You love me but you can’t.

You know you shouldn’t.

I know you shouldn’t.

But I love you.

In this odd way that you see no fault, that I try so hard.

I will always be there when you need me. I’m just a phone call away. I’m always in that building, sitting at my desk, going to meetings, talking on the phone, sending out e-mails. Always in that black dress, staring out onto San Francisco and asking myself what’s next. Tick tock. Tick tock.

You think I’m a drive away but I’m a world away. I cannot think anymore, I don’t know when to run. I don’t think you understand and you certainly don’t. And you don’t dare press it, but doesn’t it tickle your curiosity? That there’s a story, for sure there’s a story. But what are the secrets? What are the secrets that I’ve got buried in my hair, behind my eyes, under my sleeve?

What are the secrets that everyone whispers about? That my sisters won’t tell because they don’t know either. And everytime you trace the scars on my back, on my neck, on my arm with your lips, your finger, your tongue, you still don’t dare ask. You don’t know how it could be possible for someone to have so many lines and not be dead, not be broken.

Ah. Then you would be lying to yourself. Because you stay because she is broken. Because her friends couldn’t possibly take care of her alone. Because she is running circles away from some demon, she is atoning for something in the stars, she wakes up from nightmares in a sweat, and you feel this obligation to stroke her hair, tell her everything will be okay, love her, forgive her, reassure her, comfort her, love her, love her again, never leave.

But you know someday you will have to. Because this is like walking along a ledge of a building and it’s been fun but this girl is crazy and you know it. And she loves you and you love her, but you never know what next week will bring. You never know what news you’ll hear on the other side of the phone, and she’s slowly breaking down. And she never said she smiled a lot, she never said she was okay, but she had picked up most of the pieces and glued it all back together. And everything is just fine! Just fine! Just fucking fine! There is so much to do at work, she says. And there is. You know it. We all know it. Everyone knows that. It’s true.

But it nags you just a little, doesn’t it? When she’s sleeping alone what goes through her mind? What is she doing? What is she thinking? Tick tock. Tick tock. She’s slowly unwinding, coming undone. They’re gone. He’s gone. He was gone a long time ago. She does it out of guilt and she’s told you that. But you don’t understand what guilt it is, what she’s doing… just that she’s doing something wrong.

But you cannot protect her. You knew that from day one. You knew the minute you saw her that this girl was all trouble, all storm. There was no calm. This was a hurricane without an eye. This was chaos. And she has delivered. Oh she delivered.  She delivered through laughter and wildness but you know that this intensity works the other way around.

So do you stay?

And how would you tell her goodbye?

You know she won’t hurt you, but what happens afterwards?

She’s not okay, Dylan.

She’s not.

You got a sway when you’re grooving

Know just how to move me

It’s as simple as that.

You smile

I hear a symphony

Though my words escape me

Know you understand

Anytime I wanna

Tell Ya

that I

Love Ya

I get tongue-tied

Wide-eyed

from that feeling

I got the blues like I’m Memphis

Somehow you just sense it

Put your hand in my hand

Fiction

She must have been in her mid-twenties. This was after she graduated college and moved to New York. She moved above the Mason-Dixon line, but sometimes it finds away to catch up to you. She wanted to work in fashion, she came from a respected family in the South, but she wanted to shed those Southern roots, those nuances in order to make it big in the Big Apple. She lost her accent, she’d been practising at least. I always think she had. We never talked about how she grew up, we visited family sometimes down there, but we were expected to never become them. We were not Southeners, we were not even transplants; we were New Yorkers, we were Upper East Siders.

She fell in love. Maybe she had already fallen in love before. Maybe when she was young. Maybe that’s why she was always so scared of me and him, because it reminded her of when she was younger. She fell in love with this man from a good family, an almost archaic old-money family on the Upper East Side. She got to work in fashion, she got to work in PR. Women’s work. She moved up extremely quickly. Did she miss him? Did she go back? Did she just go back out of the blue or had she been thinking about it for a long time.

She had everything.

They got married soon after. She started a family. What a bittersweet gift. What an uplifting disappointment. How… sad. He wined and dined her, he must have. He must have been so charming. He was so soft at that time. Time hadn’t gotten to him yet, he was still fresh faced, wide-eyed, so excited to launch his new business. He had this forward, aggressive charm. He had those eyes. He had those eyes that everybody tells me about. He was driven, he had big dreams. Times weren’t difficult yet.

But he was different. He was Southern. He was… charming in that lazy, fluid way that you makes you sink into a chair and knock your head back as a silent defeat to North Carolina’s hot summers. He must have had a nice smile at that time, crooked and toothy. How could you forget? How could you simply walk away from that and vow to never come back to see that again? I think she loved him. I think that’s why she went back. They didn’t happen to bump into each other; she went to find him. She drove that car of hers at the time back there. Back down those roads that I know so well myself now too.

She must have stayed there a while. I don’t know. I don’t know. She must have stayed for a few months after she found out. She couldn’t bring him back with her, could she? No, she was ambitious, she was independent. She was driven. She was almost like her husband now. How disappointing. She would make her daughters like that too. Hopefully. You know, hopefully she has daughters. Beautiful daughters, smart daughters, just like her.

He was beautiful. A beautiful baby, who grew to have locks of wheat gold blonde hair. He didn’t really look like his mother. He had her eyes. It took so long to realize that he had her eyes. Almost too long. Nothing else though. He was all his father. He was the farmer’s son.

And when that mysterious lady who showed up in her black BMW, looking ominous like a scavenger flying around feeding cows… observing… all cards up in the air, falling face down on the table about what were to happen next. They must have talked. They must have talked beforehand about the arrangement, secretively on the phone. This was not a gentle matter, this was not an ideal arrangement; this was the only arrangement. She was desperate. She had to do something.

Then she left but the girl stayed. The girl stayed for two and a half months. She had those weird eyes, like if you looked into them long enough you might find something you didn’t want to be looking for. She was tough, even mean. She didn’t say many words, she didn’t want to be here. She was not here out of her own will. And the boy taught her how to sow, how to watch the crops, how to grow. She had an idea how the families were connected but she was off. She loved it there though; the serenity, the solitude, the innocence. Oh the irony.

Sometimes I still think back to those fields. Forbidden now in some senses, perpetually welcoming me with open arms to some. They still remember her there whenever she stops in for drinks. He’s grown to look more like his father. He’s much taller now, handsome without a doubt, superb manners. Times have hardened up, just like his father. How sad.

Did you do this? Why did you do this? Can you sleep at night?

He is so responsible. He takes care of his sister. He has dreams, but not those big dreams like that woman 20 years ago. And that girl? He doesn’t think much of her. She comes around every once in a while without purpose. She just comes to see if everything is still the same (it is) and if the family’s doing okay (it is, thank you very much). They became friends. I think he liked her, in a manner that he didn’t understand himself fully. It was an attraction that she was so different, so stubborn, so beautiful, and so unpredictable like the rod of lightening that shoots down and strikes something, anything, in order to make a connection, to touch, to end a frenzy that’s been bothering it for so long.

Did she miss him? Did she sometimes wish that she had watched him grow up? Does she feel guilty for leaving him there, erasing him from her life? Has she erased the guilt? Does she still love him? She fell out of love with him and she remarried. But she’s not truly happy. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an image is worth real money. Does she reminisce? Does she have words left unsaid? Will she go back during her mid-life crisis and apologize and tell him how she felt, how she feels. Will he accuse her of her neglect, her false love, her faulty priorities, her instrumental role in this tragic love story?

But no, he is too proud. He is Southern. He is a Man. And he will never admit the hurt, he will never admit the truth to protect his family, and in so many ways, they are the same person. And he would always look at the girl as a mark of what life had passed him, what life she had told him he didn’t deserve. She was the prize, the reward… gone awry. She was supposed to be perfect, she was supposed to be the gloss over the shiny life and she fucked it up. She was the tarnish on her big apple trophy that mocked her about her failure to have a perfect family, to love wholly, to move on, to forget, to forget where you came from, to try and deny that you can get the girl past the Mason Dixon line but you can never take the Mason Dixon line out of you.

And what I remember so clearly are the dances, the music, the food, the drinks. The lights, the heat, the sounds, the looks of disdain, the looks of disapproval, the looks of longing, jealousy, curiosity, confusion masked as hate. And I remember him holding my hand and twirling me around those small white light, when I realized who he was. And I remember smiling, body stiff from my realization, and realizing that my mother’s greatest regret was not having me but leaving me behind to a family that should have been her own. Because in her eyes, I would never know what was missing from my life but she would have always known. She never had to bear it alone, but that was her choice and what a final choice that was. And here I was, dancing with him. But she never asked. She never dared to ask. I think she knows that I know now. And what a tangled web we live in that won’t separate two states in a fine line.