Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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My father would slip a five-dollar
bill in the giant paper bag lunches

he fixed. I could buy an ice cream
for everyone. At the lunch bell

kids gathered round as if to see a live animal
as I also unpacked a pound of foil—

wrapped salami on rye. Meanwhile,
my mother in another time zone

would choose which Liz Claiborne
suited her outfit: opal pearl or gum-

ball red or that gaudy sulfuric yellow.
The purses had a braille-like texture

somewhere between rubber
and Tupperware. For thirty years

I saved them until—recently—I sold
them on Etsy. It was easy—

wrapping their gummy bodies
between layers of soft tissue,

tucking the straps inside like neat wombs,
no one would know the cancer

that they shouldered, when she was
too weak to zip and unzip them,

when it was too late anyway for us
to get to know each other. So it makes

sense that it is my father's shoulder
I cry on after a student asks me

how far along I am. I shrug and say,
Things aren't always what they seem.

Ellen Elder‘s poetry has been published or will appear in About Place Journal, DMQ Review, Exquisite Corpse, Leveler, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tampa Review and elsewhere. Her manuscript Mother, Float has been a semi-finalist at national presses. She lives in Germany with her fiancé and daughter (whom she had when she was over 40) and teaches at the Volkshochschule Neuss.

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