The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood
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Mother by Batnadiv HaKarmi Weinberg

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We sit in the kitchen
my grandmother, my mother, me
listening to the susurration of water
boiling on the stove.

Once the bottle is sterile,
a careful spoon of powdered formula—
my nephew needs to be fed every hour
filling the tiny pocket of his stomach.
Then the crying and flailing
till he spits most of it up.

He is a half-hatched chick in my arms—
his lashless eyes holding mine,
mouth opening and waiting,
the bumps of his shoulders
shadows of wings unformed
when he flew
untimely from the womb.

My grandmother, sunk heavy in her seat, says:
“You should stay here, not go on the trip.”
My mother: “No, she should go.”
My grandmother: “And leave him?”
He grabs at my wrist with twig fingers.
My mother: “I’ll care for him.”
My grandmother: “But she, she’ll care for him
almost like his mother.
Almost as good.”

Unsaid: And you won’t.
Unsaid: And you can’t.
Unsaid: There is no atonement
for not being there
when his mother died.

My mother starts to cry.
My grandmother smiles—
a knife slashing across her face
satisfied she still has power;
pained, because she can’t stop.
Because after the first pain
there is always another.

“You’re going” my mother says to me.
Beneath their battling gazes
the baby stirs,
kicking his fragile feet
into my hands.
The air in the room is
viscous as the lost womb.
I bend to him and whisper,
“Breathe.”

 


Batnadiv HakarmiBatnadiv HaKarmi Weinberg is a Jerusalem-based writer and visual artist whose works have appeared in Poet Lore, Poetry International, the Ilanot Review, and Partial Answers. The recipient of the Andrea Moriah Prize for poetry, she studies poetry in the creative writing program at Bar Ilan. She is on the faculty of the Brandeis Institute of Music and Art, Brandeis University.

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