Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Sylvia Plath’s Last Motherly Acts

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It was strange gifting,
running tape around the doors
like heifer's blood,

telling the kerosene to pass over
her children even
as the seal helped the fumes fill her.

And what about the other gift?
Beforehand, she knelt to the floor
and rested a tray of bread

and milk for their waking.
Was it a willed gesture?
Alas, I was a good mother?

Or habit, the way
I catalog your needs, Baby,
at morning's first window light—

my breast to your mouth,
my fingers to your ornery clothing snaps,
my eyes on the reddening

around your anus
and the cream to fix it.
Every ounce and pulse of you

is my duty to know
even before my own hunger
gets its bite.

She lived, we're told, in the house
of dark angels, all the wings
stroking her cheeks

away from the dawn.
Still, she laid down the tray.
It was evening. It was winter.

It was the last answer
to their wanting,
which would extend well

past morning.
For years they'd eat their shocked
emptiness for breakfast.

Daughter, I need it to be neither
penchant nor posture
but something bigger, a prayer

that smears of butter might
float them farther
than butter typically does,

that the children will be carried
aloft on a morning's calories
and into the next decade,

that should I die under any moon,
the last drags of milk
from my breasts

will be the miracle meal
that lead you to the love
you make all your own.

Heather Kirn Lanier is the author of the nonfiction book, Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach For America, and two award-winning poetry chapbooks, The Story You Tell Yourself, and Heart-Shaped Bed in Hiroshima. Her work has appeared in The Sun, Salon, Fourth Genre, Utne Reader Online, and elsewhere.

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