"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

The Way I See Her

The Way I See Her

One week
A screaming red scrap
no nurture can soothe
bounced hard into crib
by a mother rejected
then wracked with remorse.
Born angry, this baby
arches away from the breast
spits out the nipple.

Two years
A long-drawn first howl
provoked by a tumble
or bump, at the end loses breath: 
eyes rolled back, face blue,
helpless against the spasm
until her lungs fill again.
Raw the rest of the day, 
primed for another

Five years
The night before school
she abandons her blanket,
develops a taste
for hot pepper extract
painted on fingernails
chewed to the quick. 

Six years
Pale between black and brown friends
heedless of civil rights violence
nearby in Chicago, she shows off
her Jackson 5 coloring book.
Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon,
and Michael: which combination
to crayon first? Three little girls
who don’t read the headlines:
“Two Die as Police Shoot
it Out with Black Panthers.” 

Eleven years
All summer she wears
long-sleeved tops to conceal
the arms she deems too skinny.
That winter she marks
the mechanics and grammar
on college papers for me.

Thirteen years
In my blue bedroom
she sits on the floor,
reads from a book
about goblins and ghosts.
The quirky wit of the author
plumbs deep wells of delight:
our funny-bones match.

Sixteen years
A vile curse aimed at me
spews from her mouth
as we stand on the stairs;
my slap dislodges a cheap gold stud
from an ear newly poked with a pin.
Blood leaks from the lobe,
and I too am pierced.

Seventeen years
She drops out of school,
boasts of drinking her meals,
staggers home, cracks the glass
on a painting I treasure.
A staged intervention,
a counselor amazed that a girl
whose IQ is so high must apply
for the GED.  

Nineteen years
My ill-chosen words for the man
she’s determined to marry: 
“I’d like to squash him flat
like a bug.” When the divorce
overlaps with a loss of my own
we weave together the strands
of our mutual pain like a rope—
a lifeline that, after a lifetime
of frayed expectations, binds us
together. We cook, commute
to classes, interpret Tarot,
read Runes, create mandalas
to illustrate ironic insights and jokes.

Twenty-one years
“I was raped last night, Mom.”
Too exhausted to move,
defeated and bruised,
she has collapsed in a chair.
A wealthy young man at trial,
serves less than a year.

Twenty-three years
She moves to Arizona,
leaves my fridge bare
of bok choy, blue-green algae,
black rice. A forgotten tube
of shampoo shouts Free Radicals!
Save your Follicles!
In my letter
I draw cartoon protesters with signs
that demand FREE US!

Twenty-five years
Her degree self-designed:
“transpersonal psychology.”
Her artistic gift expressed
in jewelry, handbags, clothing
and tapestries woven of tiny glass orbs
to resembles a delicate chain-mail.

Thirties decade
Dedication to art requires
hard physical work to survive—
farmer, tree-trimmer, beekeeper.
Labor too taxing to be sustained
surrenders to service and retail.
No promoter, no venues, no sales,
no surprise: all her knowledge
of Plato and Jung, anthroposcopy,
quantum physics fails
to put food on the table.

Forties decade
Suspicious, cynical, bitter,
she repudiates anti-depressants,
refuses to fly or to vote,
believes controlled demolition
brought down the Twin Towers,
chemtrails drop poison,
a sinister shadow government
stage-manages all.

Fifties decade
Counter-cultural values matched
to chronic negative outlook
generate a bona fide misanthrope.
“I never wanted to be here,”
she said long ago. It is difficult
not to believe her.

Sharon Whitehill is a retired professor of English literature and a devoted writer of memoir and fiction. Poetry is a new creative endeavor.

Photo by Manuel Schinner on Unsplash

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