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.