A Plea for Burned Childhoods


My mother was a poet, and she had stacks

of beaten-up, spiral-bound notebooks

with dog-eared papers and childhood muses.

When she married my father,

she made my aunt promise to light matches

to the bones and blood of her maiden-times.

She made my aunt promise to watch the smoking corpse

of her dreamland sojourns.

She made my aunt promise to never again refer to her

as monkey, which was her name

when she was still a little, soot-faced girl with dried out legs.

My mother is now Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. Lee

is a magnificent, full-breasted woman.


Mrs. Lee also doesn’t write poetry, like monkey

does- or, did.


My mother was a scholar, and she walked

through the rain on bruised, green ankles.

She wanted to know what stars were made of,

if girls were really made of sugar and spice,

and how to spell her own name.

My mother’s mother told her to die at school

rather than be alive in bed. The world only spins

for the children it needs.

My mother branded those words

onto the roof of her mouth, and now it’s the same thing she says

to me when I tell her that I feel like Atlas slid the

Earth off his shoulders and placed it

on the dip of my spine.

When I touch the curve of my mother’s back, my fingers

skip over whorled bruises instead of smooth skin.


Mrs. Lee trekked to school at four in the morning,

and she didn’t come back until nine at night.

Then she did her homework.


My mother was less loved,

because her sister was a queen whose flesh

was painted in gold

and her brother held galaxies in his head.

It hurt her like a metallic hiss against her throat.

Sometimes, I break when I think

about how other people don’t love my universe

as much as I do. I break when I realize

that there were flipped pages of

moments when my mother laid alone in her bed,

with cold sheets coiled around her pink thighs

and her eyes rubbed rawer than palms

on a frosted winter night.

She was never royalty,

and she could never cram planets into her skull.

All she could

do was sew her lips together

and hope that she could steal leftover crumbs

from the tea parties her siblings had.


When Mrs. Lee found that she had a second child,

she had an abortion.

She thought that it was a tragedy

to have two children,

let alone three.


I am the only child, and I tell people about this poet

I write about, this scholar

that I know, this less loved daughter

who I need so much that love floods

the concave of my chest, because

it took me centuries until I realized

that she was knocking,

knocking with gummed fists

on the back-door of her own existence.

And she never cried, even when she tried

to teach me how to spell her name

and I never listened.

Please, monkey,

I love you.

Please stop setting fire to your childhood.


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