Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Daughter & Mother

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In the meantime, I call out to my dead
mother, not because she was attentive, no, because
she was my mother.
I want to phone her.  She would tell me to pick her up—
she didn't drive. She'll help to bring down my daughter's fever.
She'll tell me she forced my father to clean up my messes,
it made her sick, but for her granddaughter . . .

She is my mother, the frightened-of-the world mother,
sometimes-wants-to-die mother. She'll still be the mother
who sat on my camp trunk at 3 AM,
when no one else was awake, trying to pack me for the summer, struggling
to shut the old black trunk, perched on it like a peregrine suddenly refusing
to kill. Sometimes, I just want my mom.

And when I do, there she is, picture-perfect, not a hair out of place,
cat-eyeglasses, red lips, floating above me like a crystal chandelier.
My father might appear, his black glasses, long nose,
I look like him, the man who longed for life with no idea how to live. His furious wings
flapping against the ceiling, he’ll say he loved me: I didn’t know what to do with a girl like you
then dissolve, a wizard, only pointed shoes left behind.

Who returns, but mother.
Not the man, the father, held up like an award,
a shining example of courage, a plaque commending him for persistence
in the face of my mother's female hysteria. For now, I’m glad he's gone.
I need to see only her in my own life,
to understand her, what it was like to be a woman terrified always,
told by her own mother she was stupid, good for nothing but being a wife.
Tell her I love her, say it simply, like the crack-less blue ceiling above me.
Tell her I understand. And sometimes—often—I am afraid too.


Amy Small-McKinney’s poems have been published in numerous journals, for example, The Cortland Review, Construction, American Poetry Review, The Indianapolis ReviewConnotation Press, Tiferet, Philadelphia Stories, Anomaly, and elsewhere. Her poem “Birthplace” received Special Merits recognition for the 2019 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest and is forthcoming in The Comstock Review. Her second full-length book of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, won the Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press). Her poems have also been translated into Romanian and Korean. Small-McKinney teaches community poetry workshops in Philadelphia.


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