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ISSUE:  Fall 2018


We had to present proof for everything:  
My mother was born 
August 31, 1954. On that day 
inside the womb of a minute 
she burst from another woman’s life, 
gasping her first breath of light 
in some now demolished room 
at DC General Hospital, 
which no longer exists in the extraordinary ways 
my mother no longer exists. She was swaddled. 
Shit & mucus (I first typed music) 
wiped away from her small brown face. 
Her story, gossamer almost unobserved, 
streamed like a tender, moonlit kite 
from a spider’s belly. Inside her I was
waiting. My mother went to school. 
Fainted in class from allegiance & hunger. 
Walked, like so many other black girls,  
to class with cardboard for the soles of her shoes. 
Fought rats in the cupboard at home for white bread. 
Her family’s living room furniture on the sidewalk.
Her mother dead at thirty-six 
from cervical cancer. Which makes the velvet 
sack of red silk & clots weary in me. My future.
My mother got her GED. Decades later 
she’d have a college diploma. Over the years 
she gave paper her paranoia, her respect, her grudges. 
Whatever was written was law. Made history liable. 
Lied. Then paper wrapped around her body, 
around her organs. Her medical files could fill 
a room, a mansion. Insurance & charts. X-rays. 
Letters from specialists. The results of tests 
that would judge her impossible future Impossible
So many referrals. So many prescriptions. 
It was another language. A loosening hammock 
of alphabets & symbols provoked her night & day. Insomnia 
at her heels like the claws of a leopard. Spotted 
& quickly at her throat before she could swallow.
Each diagnosis sustained a lie that she might make it. 
At least get by. The donor forms, the miscellaneous handwriting 
of symptoms that stacked & scattered 
like the savage tongues of Babel. I’d bring home homework 
until she could no longer help me, could no longer make 
sense of the equations. There were recipes she cooked. 
Recipes of meds to keep her here with us. 
Blood pressure, cholesterol, anti-rejection, vitamins 
for endless deficiencies. Then the death certificate. 
Multi-organ failure.  July 28, 2014. 
Time of death: 7:09 p.m. 
A piece of paper signed by a woman named Nathalie. 
A simple statement of the body ceasing. 
A cavity of boxes. A necessary form. 
We had to wait until the certificate got signed 
by who & who & who to say 
she would not come back. 
Then I had these dreams 
where I was writing at a desk. 
The table made out of glass. 
She’d come up & stand behind me, 
sounding out the words. 
When I looked down there was no paper.
Just her dead face trapped under the glass
casket that I inscribed with what 
I was trying to remember.  
When I turned to look over my shoulder 
there was no body, no mother, no, 
nothing but cobwebs of words.  
Zombies twisted out of paper 
holding their arms out 
until I begged them, begged myself, 
to let my mother Be. 



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