Young Mother: Three Portraits
You were ashamed in those days: forgive yourself.
Boiling water, washing those babies,
tugging at your heels as if allergic to themselves,
gnawing on you like woodpeckers gnaw on wood…
Your body was a big hole, pockets everywhere;
remember pacifiers and pins –
So you get out, you’re in a public place,
and it’s nighttime, dinnertime, about six,
and the babies start crying one at a time;
three babies, then two, then one;
the one with the big lip that pouts, eyes
always open, cautious as a fish –
and remember how nervous you were
because this cost money, and he
who makes the money hates to spend it,
but how little babies eat when they’re young.
You remember his hand coming out of nowhere
like a hot spatula, slapping the little one’s
face back and forth as if it were turning a burger,
and the boy’s face turning pink as meat,
and you were mad, fired up that this could happen
here, and all the businessmen in their single booths
and budget dinners pretended not to see,
ate slowly, turned the pages
of their daily paper; they said nothing
and you wanted to cry like your baby,
your baby in tears with mustard all over
his face, his fingers like miniature French fries;
but you could do nothing, mother, wife,
you just stared into the tray like it was a big plastic sky…
The woman in the back of the steering wheel,
the woman in the back of the broken windshield—
a crack runs through
the center of the glass
like a fault line,
of every fracture
she has felt.
It is after school.
This woman drives a red car, red as tulips in April, red as a blade with blood on it.
She is afraid of herself
of the mud that shows on her face,
the mud in her eyes;
she is fierce that way—
her big boys are big, bigger than her:
Big shoes, big voices, hands that could kill her.
They could kill her with their weight, and their words could kill her,
calling her bitch and motherfucker and
They kill her with the littlest things like not cleaning their hands, not brushing their teeth. They know how easy it is to kill her; they’ve seen it, they’re used to it, the way their grandmother kills their mother with her grand loneliness and terrible outbursts, making her daughter shrink like a little girl, a bad girl on a bench, naughty girl, making her cry and whine; these boys know how easily they can kill their mommy, their mommy their daddy can kill, their daddy who slept around, who slept and slapped their mommy until her mouth was a big balloon, mommy with one eye black and blue.
Fuck you the big boy tells the little boy punching the radio until the radio is no music at all but words all garbled like when there’s a fight and the one with the fist in the mouth tries to speak and he can’t because of the blood and the spit and the madness.
The mother is afraid, she is afraid like Mary, the Virgin Mary
who stored everything in her heart,
because of the big bad powerful son she had who told her when to speak
what she could say, he had those words he used to shut her up
so she’d pray.
Where did those prayers go, she’d wonder when she’d wake up to the everyday that was the same, the same, the same pushing and pounding…O mother in the red car after school with the two small seats, o mother with the big boys and the fogged up window, mother in the turned up heat and the stink…
Fat Carol talks about her former body as if it were a carcass found in a wild meadow, or on the beach in good weather, a slim animal like a gazelle or emu, something exotic all the males had gazed at, battled over, hungered for as if it could have been taught to love. She remembers the Hollywood sun that gave her the melanoma she wears on her back like a large tattoo; she remembers nursing her babies, her best friends’ babies because breasts were communal then and there was nothing else to do at seventeen since her husband was married to drink and laziness and charging the Visa to the max until she had bad credit, until she found a small time job in a New Age bookstore that meant she was its only customer for hours, and reread her horoscope and palm, and listened to tapes by Carlos Casteneda and Shirley McLaine and gurus who lived in far off places she could only imagine in dreamy dreams, where she lives now (dreaming) because she left that skunk of a husband and traveled north to raise goats and sheep and an illegitimate child with a dog bite scar the length of her left cheek which happened when she (Carol) accidentally let her daughter play in a neighbor’s garage while he was busy freebasing cocaine. And though she takes no drugs, she closet eats and eat, because the man she lives with supports her with his small truck business and his tantrums that tell her she is not meant for one bit of his hard cash because she ignored his one son so bad he sells bullets, this son who butchered her daughter’s stuffed animals, this crazy son who beats off behind her bedroom trailer wall until she is forced to wake up in the morning to boil hot water for the man she sometimes sleeps with who is too cheap to buy a heater so she can properly wash his dishes and feed his children. Fat Carol thinks one day maybe she’ll get thin, get a job, but right now there is too much going on inside her, too much rage, too much that separates her from the PTA beautiful housewives, but now and then she carries a little recognition that the neighbor who smokes like sin and walks up her mountain and down can’t keep up with Carol who walks it twice, maybe three times a day looking for the mail lady who may or may not leave her something besides the Catholic Digest, that something that will shove her from this dry pit of a valley to someplace worth going to, if there is sucha place, this far far away.