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.
I love you.
Please stop setting fire to your childhood.