4 poems for cracked & dangerous mothers: happy mother’s day

Mother is not a synonym for perfection. My mother never drove me to anything except to leave me in someone else’s care for good. She never read me a single bedtime story. I have no memories of any particular moment of tenderness like I have with my own daughter. She never rubbed my back or told me “You're beautiful.” She never planned a month in advance for my birthday. My schedule never kept her from hers. She smoked weed and read her bible and terrorized the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to our door. She never read a single parenting book or child-rearing article. She was cracked, with the medical papers to prove it. She was a felon who was a mean cook. She did it all wrong. She was barely there, and yet she still consumed my whole wide world. I wouldn’t trade her for Michelle Obama.

I wrote these poems for my mother when she was in prison for manslaughter. She taped them to the walls of her cell and wrote me in a letter, "I didn't know you wrote things. You should write about me sometime." So these are for her and all the cracked and dangerous mothers out there. I love you all. You’re the most honest about this mothering gig. It’s hard. You can lose mind and yourself and be easily forgotten. It’s a thankless job most days. I admire you for not pretending. Happy Mother’s Day. 

1) proximity

during those days—somewhere lying in the Long Hours that weaved the great Age that dates between ages five to eight—Mommie disappeared. at age seven I was certain it was for Good. and, even though I was Her child—her bay-bay—and, naturally I Missed Her, I knew that even so, “Who was I to Change Her Course?” SHE was Nada. she taught me to Pronounce her name softly as if I was calling, “lady.” and, to pronounce Mommie as if I was calling, “Queen.” there were many short, clear Lessons—some she laid on me turned shiftless as shade. some still weigh Heavy as all those great days spewing wonder all through ages five to eight. I learned not to bother looking for Nada when she disappeared. and, I learned not to bother Mommie even when she was present and near. in the end, I learned that there was no use in asking a lady, “Where Are You Going?” and, there is no use asking a Queen, “Where Have You Been?”

2) 4116 e. 151 street

She would pick up the house. Move it to the corner if the view was better. Her house. Her Joy. where all the beds were made even when the house was empty. She knocked down that wall to make the room seem bigger. the kitchen tile (marbled linoleum) on the floor, she put down herself. you can sit in her living room. she’ll say, “it’s a room called living so go ahead, sit… sit.” you can eat on her white couch. but, put your glass on a coaster and chat. chat. ask her about those silk flowers. ask her where’d she pick those. can you buy her silk flowers too? Go ahead and sit. chat. eat. and see what she means when she says, “The walls become and take you over.”

3) windows

Nada’s always been prone to keeping her windows open to take it all in and to air it all out. so, she could see it all coming. Nadia threw open every window, removed all the curtains and the shades. she put in sliding glass front doors and she placed the plush green living room chair out on the front porch. but no one ever came to claim the place that she would have gladly named “Yours.” in the morning, she tells me that she believes the sun’s light will bare the reason for all things, and the sun’s light will answer the many questions swelling beneath the green shade of long days—but I tell her, I say that I believe this is why there are windows that require the caress of a dress made of curtains and shades. I say to Nada it could be better this way—curtains and shades to cover the light, steep in the morning, and seal out the reason for all things.

4) five


riding in the back seat.

Nada looking back at me

cigarette smoke smiling between her teeth.

then I knew. I knew

the perfected skill

of happiness.



Marcie Walker