Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
To My Mother, at Fifty

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You call to tell me what you cannot have
at your party, what the doctor will condemn:

frosted cake, white wine, black crepe paper.
Later, we stand in your kitchen, washing

the approved-of strawberries, and you tell me about a man
who would have taken us both, when I was three. Fervor--

would that have drawn you out of bed
more in all those years? Would you have raised me

from my sheets, instead of I, with a coffee cup, pulling
you? My younger sisters rush in, the ones who provide

the grandchildren, and you forget him again. The lives we leave
unled rest in drawers, curling at the edges, and they crumble

in the light. The unborn children loll in jars
at the back of the cupboard. Tonight, I will wash

out the leafy stems of your stories, collect the dirt,
and you will act as though you do not see. The grains

of what you don’t know about me would weigh
that sink through the floor, but you hand

me a strawberry and ask: Is it clean? I can’t tell
the difference between seeds and soil.


Bethany Tyler Lee holds a Ph.D in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas and currently teaches composition, theatre, business communication, and creative writing at Purdue University North Central. Her work has appeared online in Gulf Stream, Cortland Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and at the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Awards website, among others. She is the mother of a hilarious, quirky, sweet, persnickety 5-year-old boy, with whom she lives in Chesterton, Indiana.


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I love how the images help move the narrative of the poem through different periods of time. Its the kind of poem to read over and over. Thanks!
Bethaby, thank you for this powerful poem of lives inked and the delicate balance between mother and daughter. I love The coffee cup reference and the stories as leaves. Bravo!
My favorite line: "the leafy stems of your stories." Thanks
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