Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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Ma the Movie Star
     George Barker: What kind of a mother are you? Letting your sons steal from church!
     Ma: Not letting them, George, encouraging them. That’s the only way they’ll ever have anything.
     George: We’re in a depression. Things will get better.
     Ma: You bet they will. ’Cause I’m teaching my kids to take what they want.

          —From the film Ma Barker’s Killer Brood, 1960

In the movies you are a mastermind
who shames your sons into crime, beats the sissy
out of them, breaks Herman’s fiddle over
your knee, wipes blood from the white of your blouse.
In the movies your husband is so soft
he worries about finishing pie, fears
you’ll divorce him the quick way. Everything
squeals when it dies, you say. Oh Ma, dare I
address you like the words scrolling on screen?
Mother to the Underworld, Cunning Evil
Genius, why are the people in the theatre
laughing at this pretense—this portrait?
Why am I laughing, too?    

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