Her alligator appetites had long devoured
the marshes, owned the bayous
in the rooms of our house
by the time she was widowed at sixty.
Our live-in-the-moment mother
trained us to feed on each other,
three kids circling the rope-ringed
dining room while she preened
and called the play-by-plays.
She was our Suffering Jesus, her
pale mouth of aching needs
silenced all but the grandfather clock.
I saw its big hand cross the small one,
stall at six, and I became
the clock winder staving off
mortgage meltdowns, fractures
too fine to fix. She scoffed
she’d be dead when the bank
took the house, blamed Father
for holes in the walls and binged
on leather minis, three-inch heels,
leopard prints and push-up bras;
she starved herself sick, her body
her eighteen-year-old self reincarnate,
the last of my red-lettered tantrums,
I a daughter unable to compete
with such a mother. I quit keeping
her time. When she died,
my foretelling hit like pocket change
dropped recklessly on the nightstand.
We kids retreated to silent corners,
nothing to save, and on the steps
of the courthouse, the hammer nailed sold.
The Intersection of Folly and Aching Need
I had no more than left the hollow of her arm,
when she traded in our Chevy
for a Ford wagon and ten kids
living in a home for the motherless,
as if adding the power of ten
to lunch boxes and laundry baskets
could build a ladder
long enough to touch
the bottom of a wordless well.
I was glad when the orphans failed her
as I had failed,
glad to go home, I young enough
to divide only by two:
before and after,
normal and not. I didn’t see them
coming, the babies, two
fledglings, their beginnings
buried in locked drawers,
blank pages of boys
leaving hospital doors
swaddled inside her aching need.
Why I stayed quiet past road signs
suggesting exits and turn-abouts
for truth telling, I can’t say even now,
but I sat in her backseat through
moonlit drives in fantasy lands,
they believing her stories,
seeds inside her womb,
I questioning what I knew was true.
Her hands firm on wheel and map,
she drove us deeper into the night,
time a suspension bridge
between then and now.
When exposure came,
she looked for me, the first born,
behind the wheel of a new Prius
driving off the edge of her map.
Janet Reed is a 2017 and 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in Sow’s Ear Review, The Nassau Review, Chiron Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Avalon Review, I-70 Review, and others. She began writing knock-off Nancy Drew stories on wide-lined notebook paper at age 11 and now teaches writing and literature at Crowder College, in Missouri.