She was always there,
threatening if I didn’t make my bed right.
My mother woke up late,
pulled the brush through my hair
as she shoved lunch pail at me, gave a kiss, pushed me out the door.
After school there were women in our house,
tea leaves and Tarot.
I shared her with feminists, the garden, beaches and Coppertone.
The collective of vegetarian hippies had her Saturday afternoon,
her live-in boyfriend every night.
I tagged along.
One day I painted a boat and brought home the picture.
She said I was a mystic,
my nightmares initiations,
invisible friends spirit guides.
I said she had no idea who I was.
We stared at each other.
When she told me she was pregnant,
I climbed into the back of my closet
counting my place. In the darkness I knew,
I could be the only one for a hundred years
and still that wouldn’t be enough.
On the day of the birth, I was spending the night
at a friend’s house
but she waited for me, sent someone to pick me up,
take me home to her bedroom
where she labored
and I held her hand
and she screamed until I cried.
No, she said, it feels good to scream!
I moved down the length of the bed,
midwife hunched over spreading legs
my mother’s body unfastening itself,
cherry fluid, black head of hair
and pruned-up folds of face.
They laid my sister on my mother’s naked breasts,
slimy, red, crumpled like paper.
She’s so beautiful, my mother cried: Look at her!
I was crying too,
but my eyes were on my mother.