Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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As I was dragging dinner
kicking and screaming
from cans and plastic packages,
three-year-old Claire was dragging the magnet tin
from the back of the pots-and-pans cabinet.
Together we spelled CLAIRE on the refrigerator --
bold, bright.
Red, yellow, green, purple against white.

I went back to the problem of dinner,
Didn't notice until late that night
that somehow CLAIRE
had become MID CLAIRE.
Random letters she had plucked out and stuck on?
Or some kind of message
from her three-foot-tall self?
Take note -- Claire's not through here,
forget about tidying up,
putting magnets back in tins,
tins back in cabinets.

In the midst of Claire,
dinners are cobbled,
beds are made with lumps,
questions are asked and asked and asked,
the same questions,
the same ones,
the same.

Every day insisting she's trading places
with her one-year-old sister --
"I'm your baby who crawls. Will you tell Daddy that?"
Every day thirty or forty times.

It's how I live now:
The doorbell rings --
Oops, sorry, you've caught me mid-Claire,
my hair in a towel,
dishes in the sink,
newspapers unrecycled.

Maybe it's that I live now,
down in the dirtpiles of raw emotion
I had choked down for so long
swallowing my rising gorge
lest the mess kill me.
Now I catch other people's vomit in towels or my shirt,
gather collapsed crying forms from floors when I'd really rather join them.

"Claire is ready for the world,"
said a mother we met at the park
in the beautiful confident cadence
I've always envied in African-American women.
Claire, not yet walking then,
was trying trying
to climb a ladder
taller than me.

From her arrival
I've woken up mid-Claire.
Never a baby to mew or babble in her crib,
she graveled awake
from silent and sleeping
to all rasping, scratching cry from the throat
as if her first breath were an exhale.
Now still all exhale
talking all the while
every breath an engine for speech.
Every breath.

I struggle to not hyperventilate.
I don't want to die mid-Claire,
Don't want to be cut down in the prime of Claire,
Couldn't bear
to miss a beat
of spoken air.

Donna Levine Gershon’s poems have appeared online in storySouth and qarrtsiluni, and in Kakalak: Anthology of Carolina Poets. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with her husband and their two daughters.

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