Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

Camel Hair Coat

I don’t want always to write about
the cleft in my heart, the blade turning.
My child who still, so deeply, resents me.
I believe my mother caused me damage, turned
away from my need, restrained my flourishing
as if she tight-bound me, wrists and ankles.
But so little of what I remember is solid.

Her camel hair coat, fluid when she walked
—it smelled of Chanel and was slippery-smooth
inside. She’d drape herself with the coat
afternoons when she rested on the chesterfield.
Then it was her woven shield, a golden-tan refuge
against us, her clamouring children; for maybe
twenty minutes she could simply shut her eyes.

If mothering is the thing in my life that most
pained me, how can it also have given
immeasurable lightness? Wire-trip
joy or flying in freeze-frame, trickle slaking
a parched throat. What do I have to say
about being a mother, about having a mother?

I’ve written of her, raw-boned and angular
when I was small, so hugs met the resistance
of hipbone or rib. How she shrank, a softer body
as she aged, the feel of her yield in my arms,
the finely-creased fabric of her cheeks. Home
from chaos after she died, din of arrangements
halfway across the country, I settled myself
to write in the sun on a wooden patio chair.

My girl was seven, wanted to climb me, sit
in my lap but I couldn’t hold her as I wrote,
and I wanted to write, needed to sink
into myself. So I pushed her away, let her
father lead her into other activities leave
your mother be. And the chasm between us
opened, my child unmothered as I’d been
dismantled, unpieced, only a week before.  

return to top