My Mother and I Loiter

Issue #150
Winter 2021-22

on the front steps of

some young professional’s

apartment in Boston.

                    She smokes

I hold my breath

it is hard for both of us

to breathe.

Her: heavy doses of meds

Me: small doses of meds

meant to make seeing her

less painful, other things

less crushing.

                    Today it is hot

she tries to blow her cigarette

smoke away from me

she doesn’t know much

about me anymore

but she knows I’ve always

hated the smoke.

                    She knows

I’ve always hated how we’ve

never been able to connect.

                    She used to roll

my infant body in a stroller

while she fumbled through


                    I knew nothing

but how to love her

the way babies know


the way babies don’t

know that they

are experiencing

pain but that something

is breaking           and my mother

is a hurting thing but like a baby

she doesn’t know this

                    so I sing to her

about my job and how the family is doing

this calms her all the time.

                              I imagine

she feels no pain if only for a moment

and I can smile as I wonder

if this is how it feels to be a mother

                              to know the world

and all its evil and to soothe anyway

even when the consoling never comes back

          and you’re left empty.

I can’t pretend to know about birthing

but I know how to make up happy stories

for a woman on a front stoop

who can’t believe her daughter

is almost thirty.

          Who can’t believe she had a baby once

chanting back every lullabye

                    meant to make things okay

meant to shield

                    everything soft

like we are told

                    only mothers could

I don’t know

                    how to be a mother

but somehow

                    I have learned

to keep

every hard

lesson tucked away

until enough time

has passed

                    until the world

has aged us both

old enough

to learn.