My birthmother ran away after I was born.
My birthmother is a gypsy, a spy, a go-go dancer.
My birthmother is in the Witness Protection Program
and wears a blonde wig. A red wig with bangs
that skim her long eyelashes. My birthmother
didn’t want me—she is a singer. An actress. My birthmother
looks like the woman at the bank. The woman
in the Sears catalog. I cut her out. I taped her to cardboard.
She wears a blue dress with white flowers. My birthmother
gave me up because what else could she do? Maybe it’s better
without her. My birthmother is dead. She lives
in another city, country. My birthmother left
a note. I wrote the note, then burned its one word
scribbled on the back of an envelope: sorry.
My mother empties her purse
of leaflets. She shakes her head,
says, look. Fingers reach
from black garbage bags. She does not
say this could have been you,
but I am there in the purple commas
of tissues, bones. There, my birthmother
closes her eyes against the sterile swabs
of Betadine, the bowls of blood. My mother
reads to me the litanies
of women and their stories, the forced
suction of hearts and spines. She runs
her hands over a picture of an arm
torn from its socket, a palm
the size of a dime, unrolls
posterboard from its plastic bag, discards
the receipt. She makes me cut out
the photographs. The dark envelopes
of bodies, the jellied stars.
I cannot look at her. A membrane
of glue webs my thumb. The small
photographs blur red.
is the founding editor of Pebble Lake Review and the author of The Wishing Tomb, winner of the 2012 Perugia Press Award and the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry, and of The Glass Crib, winner of the 2010 Zone 3 Press First Book Award for Poetry. Her recent work has appeared in Crab Creek Review, The Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, Quarterly West, and in the anthology, Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). She teaches creative writing and literature at Lone Star College.