Mother Knows Best: "My Father's Breed"
"Whom do you imagine as your ideal reader when writing a new poem?" is a question that often comes from the audience at poetry readings—a question that I always answer with a rather uncertain "nobody." Nevertheless, if you asked me whom I'm least of all likely to imagine as my future reader, I'd indubitably answer "my mother." The image of my mother reading my book (my mother has always been a keen reader and buyer of books: Even now, when I find myself in a house without a good library, I have a hard time grasping that somebody actually lives there) is akin to how others are bothered by the image of their parents having sex (the latter doesn't bother me whatsoever).
One December evening I came home and discovered Collected Body on a coffee table in the living room. Mom turned toward me, put her two long sewing needles on top of the book, and said: "So this is how you remember me." And I immediately knew what (a poem called "My Father's Breed!") she was talking about. "Of course not," I said. And that was true because I remembered her, rather, as a young woman, in bed, freshly out of the shower on a Sunday morning, her head in hair rollers, her slippers with large pompoms, her legs on my father's still sleeping back, reading a young adult book that I had just finished reading. "To better understand you," she'd said.
So our argument never happened. Later I realized that my mother didn't ask that half question/half statement because she was bothered by the poem. She wasn't bothered by it whatsoever. This statement was simply her way of letting me know that she had read the book. After all, there was no "strip of water" in our neighborhood of wretched apartment blocks, neither of us wore nightgowns, and grapefruit doesn't grow in our cold country.
My Father's Breed
It's four in the morning.
I'm ten years old.
I'm beating my mother between the mirror and the shoe rack.
The front door is ajar. A bridge
presses its finger to the frozen strip of water.
Snow falls over it gritting like sand on glass.
Both of us in our long nightgowns.
I stare into her earring hole and aim
at her large breasts not to hurt my knuckles.
I slap her face like I flip through channels.
My father lies at the door. From his shirt
lipstick smiles at me with the warmth of urine.
It's as if somebody threw at him slices
of skinned grapefruit.
Every time she hits him — I hit her.
Look at this. Look whom you've bred.
How can he see from under his pink vomit.
But his body smiles —
cannot stop smiling.
Poem from Collected Body. Copyright © 2011 by Valzhyna Mort. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.