The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Witness by Keisha-Gaye Anderson

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Like the memory
deepest hidden,
it drives you

The you
you can’t put down
make sleep
smother under

The pilot
light inside
burning away
the shapes and masks
that sell you this story–
a spinning web of deja vus
and absurdities

It presses you to
funnel every whirlwind
through your mind’s eye
from your heart
is wrung
a battle song

But then you see their
hungry mouths
reflections of your mouth
and you bend lower
to hear their
tugging questions
which are also your
even now

So you cradle them
in your mother’s laugh
and pretend to know
the whys
and whens
and hows
sending hem satiated
and giggling into another
concrete yard
hoping for a lifetime
before their
joy swings to recognition
of these boxes
that we twirl in
day by day

You stop only to fuel
this vehicle
and not much else
not hearing these words
that jump up
and float uncomfortably
into your staff meeting
you blame the missed coffee
the crowded train
they squint and smirk for manners
sharpen knives under the table

You push down
those ideas that
kick open your
dreams at night
and ripple through
your day
making you
spill the milk
step over the pampers
say to him, “I’m too tired”

You would never give back
your little stars
because “mommy”
is the sweetest serenade
ever sung by God
and so now
they need you
and so always
you give you

But the thoughts still form
and sit on the
shelves of your consciousness
swinging their feet
and cursing at you
until you remember something
of what you are
outside of what you can imagine

The walls of time close in
but you choose to first
season the fish
scrub the toilets
then restrain yourself behind
“Just a second,”
until it becomes a mantra
for running in place
a blueprint you’re
determined that your little stars
will never use

Your map
a jagged legacy
sewn together
on a 1970’s flight
from palm trees
and anthurium lillies
toward possibilities
followed by latch keys
cold cereal
and warnings
about the body you inhabit
where it can not go
what it should not hope for

But here you are anyway
you checked all the right boxes
and didn’t implode
so now you provide
so that they can paint
and play the steel drums
“A truly modern instrument,”
you boast
between mountains of laundry
and multiplying toys

You want someone to pinch you
and then scold yourself
for being ungrateful
so you just
light a candle
write these words
a facsimile
composed in the dark
a rest stop
in the direction of home
where love need not be rationed
where new stories emanate
and create waves
that shift minds into motion
bring life back to
bodies just breathing
see where it hurts
and understand
why that’s okay
pull down the sky
and create castles
in the rubble
and just BE
in the only way that
truly matters.

Keisha Gaye AndersonKeisha-Gaye Anderson is a Jamaican-born poet, author, screenwriter, former journalist, and mother of two. Her work has appeared in two volumes of Small Axe Salon; Afrobeat Journal; Streetnotes: Cross Cultural Poetics; two volumes of Poems on the Road to Peace (Yale University Press); Sometimes Rhythm, Sometimes Blues (Seal Press); Caribbean in Transit; and the Killens Review of Arts and Letters. She is a past fellow of the North Country Institute for Writers of Color and was short listed for the 2010 Small Axe Literary Competition. Keisha is also a founding poet with Poets for Ayiti. Proceeds from the collective’s chapbook, For the Crowns of Your Heads, are helping to rebuild Bibliotheque du Soleil, a library razed during the earthquake in Haiti. Her journalistic work in television includes long-form documentary production for CBS and PBS and feature articles for magazines like Psychology Today, Black Enterprise, Honey, and Teen People. Keisha is currently an M.F.A. in Creative Writing candidate at The City College,


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