On the day I was born you nearly bled to death
perhaps a sign that our lives were marked for strife
but a mother’s womb is a thing of power
a proving ground for life and all its mysteries
you called me first-daughter and I shouldered
that responsibility, sometimes bearing
too many of your sorrows
always bearing mine.
Our lives are as entwined as our DNA
that mitochondrial ribbon of memory
tethers us to the long sighs of mothers and daughters —
Maria Fiora Petronilla Lazurri
Maria Assunta Rocchiccioli — and other
more ancient daughters, mothers,
grandmothers, great grandmothers –
whose names we do not know
strong women who loved and lost, laughed and cried
dreamed and despaired and lived —
always lived, knowing that blood runs deep
and primeval bonds are never severed.
Whether our days are carefree or fraught with pain
something carries us forward
something that knows mothers are imperfect
and daughters are too
something that knows us each by heart
celebrates the joys and sorrows
blesses us all the way through.
Not mother by birth, but second mother by chance
your fierce spirit a reminder
that a woman strong is a mighty beauty —
though some would not agree.
When first you married my father
my twenty-something eyes had already
seen too much, yet much more lay ahead.
At your table I have feasted on roasted chicken
with potatoes, polenta simmering in red sauce,
savory meatballs and homemade fried dough
listening to stories about your sisters,
heeding your reminder to always cherish mine.
There’s something in a woman’s bones that celebrates
the twin sustenance of food and sisterhood,
something that honors the balm that resides
in the love of mothers—biological or not —
that knows life is painful and bearable
knows, too, that only love sustains us
through the long walk home
When first I met you my life lay in shards.
Splinters of mirrored glass reflected
worry and woe back at my astonished eyes
discontent called my name.
You asked me to look closely
wait and listen for my truth, for answers.
I never cried in front of you
yet the kindness in your eyes
called my name
steeled my courage
led me home.
Together we mended
the fragile fragments
fashioned woe into a window
a way in & out
of my delicate, willing heart
Voice clenched in terror
I sat before you
too many secrets trapped
in too many memories
my lips afraid to speak
my brain shattered by shock;
I wanted to shout, but could not
I wanted to silence years of no-no-no
dive, singing, into the boundless sea of yes-yes-yes;
I longed to drown in epiphany, be reborn
a woman whose tongue was ablaze
with voluptuous vowels
I could not have known
the way out was strewn
with prayers and poems
pictures drawn of fierce, howling mouths
the dark eyes of a young girl staring back at me
her twisted mouth clamped shut
her lonesome hands reaching
for something it would take me years to recognize.
When at last the stifled air stirred
I began to cry and sculpted Amazons of clay
fists clenched against injustice, wanting — always wanting —
to laugh, to dance, to say what I needed to say
without censor, without regret, without retaliation
and you, a patient midwife,
witnessed my bloody birth without flinching.
Breath after precious breath you stood resolute
as I gathered the lost syllables
reclaimed the nouns, verbs, plump sentences
of my mother tongue
the native language of my soul.
Mother of mothers dark and divine
your secret keys unlocked ancient doorways
ushering me down dusty roads
peppered with red poppies and parched ruins.
Sicily captured me, cradled me in her fragrant arms
coaxed my soul from its too-long slumber.
Your audacity, your heart, your laughter
spoke of things long forgotten
daring me to speak as well
and to remember