The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Nicole Callihan – Poetry

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Nicole Callihan

From Yesteryear


(3/26) And even if I were.

And even if I were.

If there are 24 hours

in a day

and 6 people in a house,

12 hands to be washed,

and also bodies,

2 of which fall on you,

and a bottle of shampoo,

2 dreams of one man,

one dream

of one man and a woman,

one dream of 2 men,

one dream of my mother,

one dream a crowded bed,

7 birds on a wire,

3 meals per day,

one remaining box

of frozen waffles,

half a jar of peanut butter,

not enough

new razors,

also rain every day,

and I have never been

a pill-popper, so wine,

so wine, so wine,

so cheese, too, and coffee

again, and another day,

another other day

in yesteryear

(to say nothing of work)

and one flew away,

how many birds

are left on the wire?

(4/3) Friday, thunder

and warblers,

and Ella eight


and mother is okay,

mother is okay

again, mother is

that blackbird flock

in the branches,

is serving

me half her food,

isn’t hungry,

is shaving

her legs,

is a bowl

of plastic lemons,

the canary

in my coalmine,

finch in my gut,

will make it,

is standing

in the dusty gravel

in the shadow

of the barn,

has promised

to return.

Is it already


The sky seems

to think so.

I hide the knives,

keep them


(4/15) Elsewhere,

it snows, a single

perfect chime.

I dream I serve

the girls a can of cream

of celery soup for dinner.

I love you, they say.

Do you? I say.

Yes, they say.

Eat before it gets cold,

I say. The body stands

at the window

searching the clouds.

Is this how

it’s always been?

I rub rose balm

into my lips. The page

gets whiter and whiter.

The body moves

to the other room.

In the mountains,

the winter I was ten

they stuffed my mouth

with a washrag.

A spoon knocks

against a bowl.

Near the birds,

Cody sweeps

the leaves

from the porch.

He doesn’t know

I’m watching.

(4/17) Afternoon.

The little

paper lids

on those hotel

room glasses,

the curtains,


than velvet,

so not velvet.

Your daughter

holds a baby

chick, asks

who Lord

is? And who

is Lord?

My girls and I

make a pound

cake, careful

not to slice

our knuckles

with the lemon

grater. How

long until the sky

turns again?

Cynthia says

something about

subway doors.

How good

it felt when

the A-train

was so crowded

I didn’t worry

about falling,

just swayed

my body

into a stranger’s.

Months later,

I lean

my head

on the cold stone

of the wall

of the garage.

(5/10) Turned Sunday.

How to recall

the quickening?

Crown to rump,

the size of a peach,

sprouting hair

and lanugo,

your mouth

forming its roof.

How to remember?

We try to cut

the dough

for Danishes,

but the stale edge

stops us,

the cream cheese

gone moldy.

Waste not,

want not,

mother says,

but here

I have wasted

and still want.

Photo of a photo.

When I was little,

I say. We know,

we know, they say,

but, beyond

the body, what


do any of us

really have?

You were in me,

and now,

you’re not.

Beside me,

and now,

you’re not.

O daughters,

come downstairs,

let’s go lie

in the grass.

Let’s have this day.

Let’s let

May be May.

Nicole Callihan’s poems appear in PEN-America, Copper Nickel, Tin House, and American Poetry Review. Her novella, The Couples, was published by Mason Jar Press in summer 2019. Elsewhere, her latest poetry collection, a collaboration with Zoë Ryder White, won the 2019 Sixth Finch Chapbook Prize. Find out more at


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