Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
When You Go, What Will You Leave?

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oh pray that what we want
is worth this running,
pray that what we’re running
is what we want

     -- Lucille Clifton (from “we are running”)

Every day I run, she chases.
Her harsh breath in my ear warns
of rapists, untied shoelaces,
faulty pool drains waiting to pull
me under. Sweat stings my skin, drips
with each footfall on asphalt. I try
to gain some distance. In the house
she won't leave, the television's
always on, ready to serve
tragedy. She asks where I find time
to run. She sits in the kitchen
puzzles over crosswords. Smoke
from her cigarette tears my eyes.
She won't quit. Her gin bottle lying
still in the gutter. I plod

uphill, concentrate on each
small forward motion, try to hear
birds, breeze, but no matter how fast
I go, she's right there with me
gaining speed on the decline.
Her whole house arrayed behind us,
basement full of broken tools, cluttered
cabinets clattering open,
spilling old towels, old clothes, old dust.
I'm working on endurance,
my hands tight in fists. She tells me
she won't listen to those doctors
just trying to make a buck.
Her pills rattle in their bottles.
She tells me I can't help her.

This is what I'm running to and from.
This running gets me nowhere,
leaves me in circles, encircled.
They say a good mother gives her children
both roots and wings. My fingers reach
towards my own children, tendrils, tethers,
trying to sink into flesh.
The mother in me cries,
The daughter,

Lisa Zerkle lives in North Carolina with her husband and three school-age children. She is co-editor of Kakalak 2007: Anthology of Carolina Poets. Her work has appeared in Crucible, Main Street Rag, moonShine review, Pinesong, and Thrift Poetic Arts.

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