The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Theta Pavis – Poetry

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Theta Pavis

 

The Shell and The Bone

Waiting for the x-ray I lay still on the table.
My little body patient and wondering what
the doctor will see when she looks at my
bones, stolen too early of their calcium like
my mother was taken too early from me.
It makes you weak. At night I walk through
the steamy summer streets encouraging
my skeleton to do its job.

I stay flat on my back and it’s easy to just
close my eyes. Think about the kale and
sardines I have at home to build bone
and the fact that “weight-bearing exercise”
sounds like everything we drag around
with us all day.

The minutes roll by and my mind wanders.
California was my great love but now it’s
on fire. Covid is a surge, a wave, a lockdown.
The machine above me whirs and clicks.
Yesterday someone at work said the word
capitalism like they’re actually considering
it might be a problem. For a moment I smiled,
but things are unraveling faster than we can
glue them together and…

I’m supposed to make sure my daughter
practices for the SAT and picks a good college?
Find recipes with less red meat and show
her how to wash her reusable straws with
a tiny wire brush? Clean the floor with
something nontoxic?

I just want to stop and say I am sad. That
there’s nowhere to go, even though I still love
trains. That each day I will eat my
calcium tablet and feel its granular bits
dissolve on my tongue and still be lonely.
That I’m angry but won’t forget to laugh.
Throw my head back and roar.

Outside this dark room white men are
celebrating their rocket ship trips and
the governor of New York has resigned.
The new masks I ordered are waiting
in a box for me outside my front door.

The x-rays are taking a long time. The
technicians make me move, gently pushing
me into a curve on my side, a fetal
position I have to hold. All I can think
of now is that frozen Incan girl
they discovered on a mountaintop,
curved in on herself.

She was x-rayed too, still frozen 500 years
later. A sacrifice surrounded by gold, silver,
shell and bronze. Tests revealed she’d
been drugged to make her more compliant
and maybe she didn’t feel the cold freezing
her to death. But the men that choose her
lost their empire, destroyed as it was
at the peak of its power. Maybe justice
does curve.

 

Homework

My daughter studies Latin at the kitchen table.
Cornelius is in a ditch once more, his wagon wheel
come undone on some Roman road. On the black
and white page, his consort Lavinia raises clasped hands.

“They’ve been travelling all marking period!”
my daughter says, exasperated. I quiz her when she asks,
my butchered phrasing makes her laugh. A five-paragraph
essay on a book I’ve never read lays to the side waiting.
Sheets of music drift to the floor; her instrument

sits by the door. There’s a small pencil turned in a plastic
sharpener, with a tiny silver blade. Math is scratched upon
the page, figures I have long forgot. Formulas I can’t decipher.
Like how we used to be three but one was subtracted.

Later, calligraphic mysteries of Japanese fill her notebook
with simple squares for each Kanji character to fit inside,
like a face in a window. Delicate, she wields the black pen.
I love the path she is making for herself, prisms refracting
crystal softness, shining towards her clarity. Words swirl
inside my daughter, secret unknowable languages

I cannot speak. The mouth that once looked to me
for everything now moves its lips in silent practice.
What’s left out are the words she will not say
about her father, the missing man at the table.

 

Passing the Orchards

Driving back from you, I pass silent through blanched winter landscapes. It’s late.
The bare apple trees seem angry, their spindly branches raise bristling fists
into the grey afternoon sky.

I know they’ll blossom and it will be a miracle. I try to see us in the future, slowly
struggling through the grassy lane at some farm, a bag of apples in one hand, your walker
making ruts in the green earth.

Like pie crust and cold butter, I want to be that person with her hands in
the dough, working it and making it mine. Laying each slice down for the oven’s warmth,
the succulence of life.

I imagine a bright kitchen, an orchard, the highway, is a place to get to
and must be better than rolling my eyes to the past, to the rearview mirror I love,
so fiercely, all the time.

I’m moving through the present in the slow lane, letting the cars pass me, but the present
is still a place I struggle with. I visit, I kiss your cheek, I try to stay calm when you get frustrated.
But there seems no place to lay down my grief.

I’ve tucked it in the trunk.
It comes with me everywhere.


Theta Pavis lives in Jersey City. Her poetry has appeared in SpillwordsThe Red Wheelbarrow and Mom Egg Review. Her journalism has been published in Wired and Medium. She is the Director of Student Media at New Jersey City University and was recently named “Journalism Educator of the Year” by the N.J.-Society of Professional Journalists.

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