Bougainvillea by Tamara Madison
She is brown like her shadow on hot ground
at high noon. Her hair, a dark bush, bounces
on top of her busy torso as she steps out — snap snap —
in rubber thongs in the pummeling sun
of a desert afternoon. Her arms are sinewy-thin,
muscular, she jokes, from beating children, and when
the baby sobs as Mommy leaves for wood shop class
or a meeting, she springs to the crib and shakes
the wailing child: “If you don’t stop that right now
I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp!” Her sunglasses flare out
toward her temples like the sly, outspoken fins on the powder-
blue Mercury that she steers with the same hand that holds
the Reader’s Digest while the other applies Bougainvillea
lipstick; a billowing fan of dust rises behind the speeding car
where the children rest on sticky vinyl seats, secure
in their mother’s love. Sometimes at night she fastens
rhinestones to her ears and poufs on pungent green perfume,
sets the cummerbund on Dad’s tuxedo so he looks
like a movie star with all the crop dust washed off him.
We watch them drive off toward a lurid sunset of blazing
orange and pink as night grows around the purple
shoulders of the mountains, and everything around us
smells of dirt and work and farm chemicals.
First published in The Belly Remembers by Pearl Editions
At Eighteen by Alexis Rhone Fancher
When I wanted to be seen
When I danced out to the edge
When I was so afraid to love
When I longed to be a Marilyn
When I slept my way to the top
When I opened my legs but not my heart
When I shouted at my mother over dinner:
“When I grow up I’ll be somebody,
not like you.”
When I took a lover twice my age
When I told him I wanted photos
wearing only my grandmother’s
When he shot me, butt-naked on
my mother’s oriental rug
When I went home to flaunt the affair
When I fluttered a cache of the photos
onto her bed
When she walked to her closet and opened
the bottom drawer
When she handed me a large, blue envelop
When I looked at photos of my mother, naked,
her young face wicked, movie-star dreamy,
When I recognized the girl who wore only a ruby necklace
and looked like she had plans even bigger than mine
When she said, “I was only sixteen. He was forty.”
First published in Poets & Artists Magazine.
Infested Fruit By Ravitte Kentwortz
Mother had bitter orange
hair and breasts larger
than other moms in my boarding school.
She didn’t use them
to breastfeed. In her
kitchen, when I visited,
poppy seed rolls she rolled,
dropping condensed milk
into dough’s opened mouth.
Now in her seventies, she
bears on my table, heaving
peaches, a bushel
of wet peanuts.
Kale in the heat —
the ground lamb weeps.
Nana comes too. Time
her cellar filled with food
before the war, she says,
a good year for pears.
When grandfather was taken,
Nana hid. Torn
bags of grain
under her house. Halved frozen peaches
in the cellar.
When he returned, imagine
with what hunger
they had my mother — she says, time
she was tiny and blond, like
an infested fruit,
to his chest, mouth stuffed
they packed her and rooted
for roots under brittle sugar.
Nana says, your mother
by your father.
Her teeth cut teeth in his flesh.
She did not tell
of my roots,
that strapped her in so many veins,
taking her food. My father still
stands there —
as she batters her
belly with me in her
right hand, blue
blue stains of shriek,
stuffed blue, on
Mother by Mary McCarthy
I dreamed her wicked
with shining eyes
and long fingernails
that poked and pinched
an unexpected ambush
in a dark room
the sudden flash of teeth
from what was not
with too many wrong turns
to take me anywhere new
She couldn’t really afford
with so much work to do
no time for any such
for rage or spite
or the simple need
of a woman starving
out of sight
her many children
for her own hunger
I Love You, Catherine, but I Don’t Like You by Catherine Zickgraf
your words sounded fair at the time—
but they hung like ghosts in the air,
like Dad’s work shirts filed headless
on the basement line.
I’d watch for larks out the window at lunch
after buttoning all those shoulders onto hangers
in the breezeless dark.
Fallout by Carolyn McAuliffe
Fuchsia blooms flirt from thorny clusters of cacti to passersby, taproots plunge valley-deep chapped with thirst below the still, open road. The jointed cane cholla boasts petals in shocks of crimson, creamy white, and yellow like the billowy collars of a circus clown. Saguaros stand tall, fixed amongst the creosote, agave and shade of the nurse-mother mesquite. In communion and praise the elders bear their naked ribs and reach toward the open, sleepy sky.
I see you tug at the stretch of belt across your swollen midsection. I see your mind click and check and click again. So tired. Too many fitful nights tangled in damp sheets, pillows tucked between your thighs and wedged at the small of your back. You defend and you resist. You shift from supine to prone, roll left and right, while I dig my bony knees so hard from the inside out. Stretch and reach and push. I see you carry the weight of me for miles.
He flicks a cigarette butt out the window while a mournful tale of promises broken plays on the radio. You smile like a schoolgirl and imagine him singing it to you. You shake your head and watch him tap his fingers to the drum beat on the dashboard. You feel a kick and now you’re glad you had that second slice of pie at the diner 20 miles back. I see you peel back the flaky crust layer by layer, until the prongs of your tinny fork sink into the brown-sugared apple insides.
A sliver of light rips the sky wide open. A thunderclap sounds. A million tiny pieces of glass rain down on you, and him and her. You hold close the ink-eyed beasts circling from above. You embrace the barbed pads of the prickly-pear, ripping the fleshy skin until the juices erupt into a deep swell of grace. I split your belly in two and I am forcibly plucked from your core. Wings flap wildly as frayed feathers fall from the half-light sky.
With the tip of your finger you trace the fallout. Below your navel a thick, raised pinch of skin trails south. I see a razorback formed by the dry sweeps of wind, scorpions, and serpents of the sand. Did we quench our mouths on the well-spring? I see you push back the dry brush and brambles. On arid dust you choke with palms raised to the sky. You whisper, Lorraine. A pretty name, Mama. Very pretty.
Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook The Belly Remembers, and two full-length volumes of poetry, Wild Domestic and Moraine, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, Your Daily Poem, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac and other publications. She is thrilled to have just retired from teaching English and French in a Los Angeles high school.
Alexis Rhone Fancher is published in Best American Poetry 2016, Verse Daily, Plume, Rattle, The American Journal of Poetry, Diode, Tinderbox, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. She’s the author of four poetry collections, including State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, (2015), Enter Here, (2017), and Junkie Wife, (2018). Her photos are published worldwide, including River Styx, and the covers of Witness, Heyday, The Chiron Review, and Nerve Cowboy. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly. She lives in Los Angeles. www.alexisrhonefancher.com
Ravitte Kentwortz is an immigrant to the US. She studies philosophy in Colorado. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Posit, Portland Review, Caliban, MARY and others.
Mary McCarthy has always been a writer, but spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. She has had work published in many print and online journals, including Gnarled Oak, Praxis, Third Wednesday, The Ekhprastic Review and Earth’s Daughters. Her electronic chapbook Things I Was Told Not to Think About is available as a free download from Praxis Magazine.
Catherine Zickgraf has performed her poetry in Madrid, San Juan and three dozen other cities. But she’s differently-abled now—walking with a cane and flying in her sleep—so her main jobs are to hang out with her family and write more poetry. Watch/read her at caththegreat.blogspot.com and run/jump while you are able.
Carolyn McAuliffe resides in Southern California with her husband Mike and son Michael. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. Carolyn’s work has appeared in a Wising-Up Press Anthology and The Motherhood Muse.
Lion mother photograph by David Dennis. Human mother photograph by Graham Crumb.