- Vol. 05
Vulnerable swell of belly, hidden hollow of the exposed arch, the unsettling tenderness of a fingernail’s width of exposed scalp. Who can see a child? A woman who will never have one. This is not a sad statement. This is a true statement. They are wrong, those who say: all those sketches, all those paintings, of women and children – a replacement for what she herself would never know, sentimental odes to motherhood. This misses the complexity of the gaze and all it reveals, the hard lines, the shout of the patterns, the child’s arm braced at a hard angle, doing as much to hold herself up as to be held. Books and letters tell me that long before she took up painting, she had already learned what it was to daughter a mother. The weight of a small foot in an adult’s palm. Within months of each other, my sister calls, my brother calls. We are pregnant, they both say. And my heart leaps. But once we hang up, I cry. Not because I feel diminished by their news. But because, at 44, without a child of my own, I think of all I cannot help but see every time I am in the presence of someone else’s becoming, how holding so little can hold me.
Two feet I have of comfort and despair, two livelong friends who fare me forth and fort-
like hold me to myself, who tell me where I am, ticklish yet able to absorb
my weight and make it theirs, each part hard-pressed, shaped rough or smooth by use.
They tell me when I'm naked, sopping, all reduced, what world seen from their vantage shows,
that big toes callused, full of sock fluff, still in motion are more elegant than some
bridges. They remind me of a sliced pear, each part whole, each of them mother and son.
They almost look the same, as sky to water, held and apart, each one the other's daughter.
In Pashto, to water sleep:
"da stargo tora" (the black of my eyes)
as tenebrous as the earth of her name left for dead so long, it had assumed
fecundity. look, this is a good world if you can winnow the linger of its indifference
to hold anything is prelude to extinction i wish i could exercise a softness as aphasic
as the dream of myself before i manifested a constant body. my grandmother remains
a timeless crescent, the shadow of a junglee badam tree carving up a bare roof by the mere
bent of its body. a body blackened to kin the eye the mind memorizes a river as light’s heartbreak
to remember that — an arid mouth is a corrupt temple. mirror, sacerdotal. a quelled raga—
a room where hours only speak in a continuous tense where imagination has yet to learn the invention of loss
does not have a flag an anthem, a national sport,
or anniversary coinage, no wars were fought in its name,
and soldiers do not patrol
its uneasy borders. Ours is a country where the citizens have,
almond-colored elbows, dark brown hair falling in wisps, a country where
all the countrymen have identical mocha-colored eyes,
and the hesitation of émigrés,
even our shoulders angle the same way,
we turn ashen when others address us –
we speak in garbled, fragmented speech, like there are things unresolved in our throats;
old words twist and turn at the tip of our tongues,
my mother tongue holds back your words, bilingual children speak later, so the adage goes,Read more >
I won't tell you not to jump in puddles as I warm your feet, and you watch them lull your pale dozing fish, dreaming of where they swam and I know you'll sail far but I'll hold you whilst I can whilst you're still lost in the magic of your own skin. I wish I'd had more river days hair unbound, silty toes, stalking minnows- whilst brothers bawled at home, 'til they grew tall and hauled me down just as I caught the breeze- for there was butter to churn and tears to mend, for they never needed grace and we needed work for our idle idle hands. So I ask you to jump in puddles, swing on gates, take the neighbour's bike and peddle till the wind lifts your hair.
You always thought your lap wide enough to hold her, the heft of her young body, folded into your linen-clad curves. Mother and child. Heads bent together, the same shy eyes, four hands stamped with your own mother's fingerprints. Her chubby legs trembled, tired out when you left her by the pool. You only went to get a towel, to wrap her safe.
Two minutes, maybe less, before the splashes drowned you. You ran and ran, yet stood stock still, limbs of lead. Splintered heart carved up with dread. Your motherhood sank down, flailed to death by empty arms and lap wrapped in linen cloth.
Your wet, blinded eyes, felt a deft stroke, pools wiped dry. Your daughter's voice, tender and concerned, went on to say, 'Mama, please don't weep, I'm happy. I learnt to swim today.'
You see them in the park: new mothers new fathers, their eyelids swollen from lack of sleep which has become a commodity precious as time / the way they move is cautious (though they are trying not to appear this way) one hand on the stroller the other pushing back a loose strand of hair, reaching for the cup of coffee they carry as a talisman, a scrap of reassurance things are not so different / my own children grown enough they are in school, the eldest already reaching toward adulthood / I see these new mothers, new fathers and I want to say - but I remember the old woman who stopped me on Ives Street, August sun bright, my two year old eager to escape her goodwill, my own will worn so thin no skin between myself and the child 'Enjoy it' she said and I thought - you don’t remember
When I’m very close to you, as I am now, I love you with a love so deep I’m lost for words. All I know is that, since the day you were born, you’ve been the only human I can no longer imagine life without.
Sometimes, when I’m not quite looking at you, I see you more clearly, love you more dearly, lose myself entirely, in you. Now, I see your seagreen eyes and smell your sweet clean after-the-bath-ness. I sense your concentration and hear your calm breathing, now that I’ve taken the sea-urchin spines from your feet, now that I’m bathing them in warm vinegar-water to persuade any lingering spine-shafts to come out.
You trust with your whole soul that I’ll always know what to do, whatever happens, and I’m filled with a sadness that I do my very best to hide. But once a mother always a mother. My own mother said that to me when I was a young woman. I didn’t understand her then because you hadn’t arrived in my life. Now I understand her with my whole heart.
Because when I imagine what life might throw at you, when I wish all your future troubles as easily solved as this one, I cry with the knowledge that your heart and your soul will be pierced and I’ll be powerless to help. I can’t even say, truthfully, that I’ll always be here. All I can hope for, as I dry your feet and you throw your arms round my neck, is that you’ll remember this day and it will provide a little comfort.
I remember: a concoction, waiting in an empty bath to be washed; naked and covered in a makeshift mix of mud and twigs; a disguise devised by me and my brother. We cower, awaiting my father’s punishment:
my mother sent him. Still, I want her (Keep me safe). But she’s in another room tending to my sisters. So we are spanked, washed, returned clean and screaming, to our beds.
There are few photos of my mother and I alone together, framed. We were too busy, too many. Didn’t have a camera, or no film. Maybe I was away that day.
With my own daughter, I fold into my beginning, place us in a golden spiral. Her body is a shell’s inner curve; it gleams. And I wash her not to return her to any state, but to bear her weight: to hold her.
In the crook of an arm I shelter her childhood. I shelter in her childhood.
An hour ago she had the cat trapped under a washing basket trying to feed it cheese. The grass, the cat, bluebells are luscious gifts at her disposal. She tromps through her palace shouting like a tyrannical queen who is always hungry, stuffs her mouth with flowers and rain, demands her feet are bathed in warm water, tells you she can see invisible fish dancing there.
In the evening regimen splash and sparkle of water, our reflections merge as one.
But her face is not mine, she is not my daughter: I am a just a nursemaid.
The twinkles in her eyes and innocent laughter do not belong to me.
Yet my dutiful devotion and my heart belong to her; they will endure for life
though I may never be her mother or his wife.
The bath used to hang on the wall in the scullery. Not our scullery. His scullery. We borrowed it from Mr Neil who rented us the rooms at the front of his house. One down, one up. My mother would knock on his door and he would lift it down for her. But she had to carry it to our living room. It was heavy, made of zinc, she said. It took a lot of water which had to be carried from the outside tap and then heated on our gas ring. It took a lot of hot water and had to be filled and emptied with a jug. Sometimes it was just too much work for her and she washed me in a bowl as I sat on her fat lap. It was snuggly I preferred it really.
You used to sing a song softly as you bathed me and it would mingle with the gurgling, lapping water against the muted green light of the long afternoons of cicadas at their chorus in the shade outside.
Then after lunch you’d lull me to sleep with the ballad of a bird who’d have to fly away one day soon.
Your deep forlorn eyes might not have chosen that life of tall chores of bringing up a child in that small house in a small town. But how well have you sent the swell of your talent to this distant city that never sleeps, yet amidst the noise its music keeps.
Trading the long liquid afternoons and the song of the cicadas for a TV, are you happy now Ma that in it sometimes you see me?
Cleanliness, Mummy says, is next to Godliness. Today the water’s cool as eels, clear as water in Dick Brook as skies were yesterday. Until she drops the soap. And then as if by magic, clouds appear around my feet. It tickles when she cleans between my toes and as the water swirls, I think of when my daddy held me high above the shallows where crayfish hide between the alder roots, little caves where shale becomes a home for cadis worms and trout. And as I watch the ripples in my fennel-scented bowl, its little waves bring back a tide of rock pools garneted with sea anemones swaying green with water weed; now you see it now you don't, a shrimp-crowd ghosting through its crazy razzmatazz; razor fish; my footprints in the sand erased by warm sea breezes. Cool white foam disperses while my mother’s hands rinse my ankles as this morning's rain pools across the window-sill. Gathers. Gushes. Lost among forgetmenots.
Remember me, dearest girl when you hold an infant dependant on you.
When you bathe her tiny feet a hand on her hip her belly resplendent.
And remember that I wanted to teach you all I knew and believed to be true,
The desire to protect and hold so strong and yet, secretly hoping you would rebel and set your own mark upon the world.
Look, they're gardened here, air flowering warm in parloured foliage, watching those baited feet, dibbled fingers panning
pearls, Cherie's pebbled toes. Sweet eddies of morning light thread an enamelled basin's quiet eye, lessons in stillness.
Mama's dress fences her body in with a percale palisade, each rippled samphired sea-thrift line purpling its flow,
as if her lap is salt with waves. Arms fin out, legs scaled with the weight of things, a quick flittering of tails. Listen.
It's strange how sound drowns in water, a Zeppelined hum caught between Tuileries and Seine, the whispered flak along
Rivoli. Diving is an easy thing, she holds hands, counts a fire of flying fish, un, deux, trois, and they slip down, down below
a bask of gentle lanterned man-of-war. Breathe. Their lips are sea-caved, pink as cockle shells, hear the sirens singing.
Her hair was smoothly pinned back, pulled tight by her delicate fingers.
Her delicate fingers are something I remember to this day. The delicate fingers of a mother are rather curious, you see. They are, of course, delicate; but they also contain this unbounded power and strength.
Their finest touch can transform you from twilight to the citrine drip of sunset. You see, a mother's gentle touch gives strength, just as much as it is strength. The gentle press of her fingers against your back as she swaddles you in an embrace, or the familiar warmth of your hand in hers, that never seems to slacken, is akin to some kind of curious magic. Her single and omnipotent touch can silently slay your demons and calm the storm that brews over your churning oceans.
Her hair was smoothly pinned back. It always was when she was ‘mothering'. When she was bathing me in water that she had spent an hour alternating between two taps, just to ensure it was the perfect degree of warm, reminiscent of her comforting touch. Or when she was toiling away over steaming pots, carefully and prudently sprinkling vegetables with bitter cumin, heady turmeric and fervent cayenne pepper. Testing and tasting, ensuring that it would not burn me, but was still passionate enough to make me feel alive.
Her hair was loose; lustrous and beautiful, like a waterfall of oil, thick and shining. This was when she became herself. When for a few seldom hours she was not ‘mother’ but her own. And as it happened, she was more mother than she was ever her own.
Even now, when I visit her, her hair is smoothly pinned back. Her fingers are a little more delicate now and a little less strong. She grips on to me in the way that I used to cling to her.Read more >
Those bony and scrawny fingertips scrubbing and scouring every single piece of dust and soot nestled between my toes and puny soles imbues me with the moonlight sheen and the milky smell I was born with
You slowly and surely scrub my anger, pain and hurt away to let in dissolve in that turbid water when the plethora of emotions are birthing every second in your mind as you fervently look for the scars, small scratches, you might have overlooked
As gently as the seraphic touch on my nimble body which you have sculpted and nourished every bit of it you dissolve every pain in the small bowl you wash me inRead more >
in a circular basin where movement is constant as water trickles over a child's toes
mother and daughter with heads together look down at the action – both sets of arms imitate each other
firmness and tenderness looked at from above so both heads recede look back to the roundness of the basin
look down, sit down below other chairs as water always trickles down as it does here though not in constant flow
cleanliness in innocence overrides the task taken that goes around comes around each day until the child bathes another
firmness and tenderness constant as water trickles over a child's toes with intimacy in a round basin
After Mary Cassatt and Ted Hughes
He still stands listening useless his wife washing their daughter at bed-time –
their girl glistening. She watches too, watches immersed toes. The room’s patterned, all remember – clearer than years they’ve since woven together.
Now they note the lip of the jug there, stood to attention while that hand holds that towel – and still likeness looms, down the decades, likenesses in dark looks.
“Ma!” she cries happily, “Ma! Ma!”
They watch the veered bowl as if watching heaven electing to bless
the flowers after all.
Infant limbs obstinate – an inherent reluctance to allow the cold in – sensations from the past contrasting with the enveloping ease of the present. Now, two steps, dial, shower head, quick flip of a shampoo bottle, plop plop drops – more struggles of nursery nonsense – and none of the ritual of before. Ritual had meant celebration, elaboration, but now she was in-out, stripped and dipped. The noise of the water had alerted her to the chasm of time that had passed between then and now. Rather than an easy swooping, water lolloping towards toddler toes like an overweight, over-eager rabbit, water thudded from the shower head. She occasionally liked to imagine that the fall of water was uncontrollable, craving the vulnerability that standing naked in a communal, unlocked bathroom didn’t quite achieve. It was as if she wanted her blood running in rivulets along the grouting, the Psycho scream indelible in the patterns of the shower curtain. A lament to the lost moments on her mother’s knee, an eulogy to its simplicity. But modern life and Facebook had got in the way and those sacrosanct maternal movements had collapsed. She now tagged her mother in comments and cooking videos, neither looking up from the Midas mine of information. A radiator-warmed towel could never replicate that of her mother. Mr Right had become Mr Muscle (‘advanced power bathroom and toilet cleaner’) in a bleach-clean purge of skin and soul. She slipped whilst shaving, nerves and cells on a razor edge. Leaving the bathroom, she gingerly picked away the long hairs that had become entangled in her toes, a grimace on her face. The bowl was now in her kitchen, lined with a microscopic layer of dust and hair and grease. She thought of offering it back to her mother, perhaps with roses in it, but decided against it. Her mother had developed hay fever now, allergic to pollen and people and porcelain fragments from the past.
I would, if I could, wash my child’s feet with perfume, not tears Brush away fears with soft tresses, a silken towel Soothe flesh with oils not acid rain Rewrite the story of our godless crucifixion In gentle lullabies and sweet dreams And safe bedtime tales
But lands burn and skin burns and hearts burn Beneath war-ridden skies and a ruler’s lies And we wait for the giant killer to climb Into the clouds with an axe To cut down the madness and murder Lance the poison Write us our happy ever after Here in the Land of Far Away
In a full red dress with long sleeves in a yellow chair in the tilted living room or in a wicker chair in a lush garden with large green leaves, the artist’s wife spent hours at a time sitting for him.
Her dark hair is always pulled back and up, with hands clasped at her severe chin, or in her serene lap. Sometimes, she holds a child. He posed her in similar settings again and again. And again.
The artist said, "Only I understand how to paint a red!" In most of the paintings she has no expression other than one eye wider sometimes as if staring ardently into the artist’s soul.
With my marriage, people often ask me who left whom? The cliché is: it takes two. Sometimes, though it takes only one to ruin the union.Read more >
Now, now Misha, Do not fear the water. Let’s pretend your toes are a baby chickadee and this basin a birdbath. Not too cold. Not too hot. Can you hear that little birdie sing? So happy. So free. Someday, Misha, we will be free. We will go to America. I will clean the houses of rich women and sew beautiful clothes for their daughters. We will find a doctor to fix your legs. You will run and play in the dirt. I will scrub away the mud squished between your piggies. And for the first time you will giggle— For the first time it will tickle as I wash your ten little toes.
When I was a child, I used to call this quiet, boredom. And I despised her for it. The boredom of the water, waiting to cool. The boredom of the bedroom, waiting for dusk. The boredom of the closing mouth of the day, yawning into the long, boring night. My toes itched for freedom.
We have access to contraception, and now we pretend it’s a choice. But you can’t choose what you can’t imagine. (I whisper this daily, to the rhythm of a rolling pram.) Oh, I do remember the years before – the belly-aching sadness of not having a child; the stale, dry-mouthed hunger; the silent grief, month on month. It’s the silence of those years that crushes these ones into their domestic hush.
The other day I calculated that I have bathed you over a thousand times, already. I find myself leaning my head close to yours, stroking the soft goodness of your skin, feeling your heaviness fold, unthinkingly, into my lap; and I blink to forget the freedoms rotting in the toes of my smartest shoes.
With one hand, you weigh yourself against my body. With the other, you test the flesh of your leg. Soon, the light will fade from behind the curtains, the dust will rise like stars from the covers of your bed. You wriggle away from me, and half-walk, half-stumble towards sounds from the other side of the door. I watch the curve of your back. Your beautiful, sensuous freedom.
I remember the day I found out.
Dusk was approaching. Mama snatched my doll and threw it into the house. Papa pointed to Pablo jumping over the fence.
‘He is not to come here again,’ Papa said.
Mama told me Carmen would wash me and make me presentable for Abuela’s visit. 'Young girls should be inside, not out in the sun browning like peasants,' she said.
I didn’t know what a peasant was. Was bring brown bad? Carmen was brown and I loved her.
Why they didn’t like Pablo? Was it his dark skin or the way his mouth never closed? I had gotten used to the drool that escaped down the side of his chin. He couldn’t help it. It was how he was born.
He told me his father was a pirate who was always away at sea.
Carmen appeared at the door way and swooped me into her arms. They were strong. Much stronger than Mama’s. She was smiling, but her eyes looked sad. I watched as she gazed across the field to where Pablo disappeared.
My parents turned and went inside. I wish I were a boy. Papa would prefer a son, I thought.
‘Come, conejo – time to be clean.’ I followed Carmen to my bedroom. She knelt and looked me in the eyes.
‘You need to stay away from Pablo. I’ll tell him not to come over here.’
How did she know where he lived? I wondered.Read more >
The storm is coming and they are alone. Smiling, she tries to chase the panic into a corner of her mind. Pretending to be calm, she gently washes the child’s sweet, innocent body. “A woman’s breasts: two perfect drops of tears – the sorrow of a body saying goodbye to childhood, getting ready to nourish another.” Remembering her own mother’s words, her smile becomes warm and real. The child laughs, her small feet splashing the water. The little body is following the rhythm of the mother’s heartbeat. Like a couple of graceful ice-dancers, they are perfectly synchronized. They have to be. She hears the thunder. The lighting will strike soon. The little one is clean and fed and sleepy now. The mother is ready. Wide awake she waits, she listens, she watches. More thunder. No lighting yet.
The full moon was rising above the trees. Aunt Jen held out the bowl of water infused with herbs and white flowers. She placed it in a patch of moonlight.
Mary felt the warm wood floor under her bare feet, the breeze through the open window. Out there, she could see shadows moving in the trees.
The water was cool; Mary's feet tingled. Aunt Jen's voice became a whisper, the sound of leaves.
What do you feel? she said.
Sand, Mary said. I feel sand. It's wet.
What do you see?
A beach. Waves. Light on the water. Oh! A shell. And look! Blue glass.
Aunt Jen was walking beside her. The sea breeze turned her hair to seaweed.
When they came back, Mary was holding the striped shell in her hand.
You are learning, Aunt Jen said. Next month, you can help me make the spirit water. We'll go back to the beach, and walk on the waves.
With every pace, you will change.
You will punctuate places. Scenes will spill into spaces, filling your mind.
Explore the range – the wilderness beckons, its open palms the terrain.
Hike and ramble, rove and amble to where the grass strokes your ankles.
Don’t stray, scramble, stumble – vagabonds who drift slip away; the ground can crumble.
Saunter into sunlit clearings, uncluttered, unfettered. You will see better. Feel better.
Enclosures blind and blinker, binding tight with boundaries, shrinking and shrivelling scope.
Wind through oaks, roam plains, climb slopes, dance in the trill of rain.
Don’t bolt, don’t quit, escape or split; run to feel freedom course through your veins.Read more >
You called me a waif, admonishing me for running the streets in bare feet, soles blackened by soot. With tender hands and a smile that edged away the undertow of frustration, you washed the blood from my stubbed toes and bandaged the wounds of a stalwart and reckless childhood. Your rage burned out of control for the other kids, but I was the child of your new skin, the heart that learned its rhythm from the pulse of the sea. I had his face, but I belonged to you. It was you who taught me the comforts of sadness, my tiny hands covered in the despair of your tears. You strapped me to your chest and climbed out of a life steeped in secrecy, into a decade of feminist rallies, and learning how to roar, but the weight of your sorrow had stained us both. You hit me once, when I was six years old and I hit back. We sat at the bottom of the steps together and cried.
But you are not my
Sit very still
Let go of my feet
Look at your sweet little
But you are not my
Do you like this dress?
Oh no, I
I am fond of stripes
But you are not my
I will just press here
Let go of my feet
Look at your sweet little
But you are not
I will just
Two heads together, seen from a standing point of view, looking down at them downcast, in tune, lost in time.
People-watching with photographs flicking through strangers, catching them in concentrated actions, frozen.
Life mingling in lives long gone fill spaces, hold building blocks together paint pictures, decorate now with then…
feel the difference between fact and fiction.
Sturdy like the house my grandfather built, let me build a foundation beneath you and you can balance on me when you're feeling less than able. “Lean on me when you're not strong,” they say, but I want you to lean on me always. As wild as the waves, as soothing as the sea, as infinite as the ocean, and as warm as the midday sun, I want my steadfast love to keep you safe, bring you peace, and fill you with joy for the rest of (y)our days.
It had been such a long time since they had last looked for her. Perhaps they thought she had died; tripped over a step and tumbled down the stairs of her lank, dusty tower with nobody about or willing to save it. They knew she could not stand the daylight's sun, and even though she could almost pass as one of them under the moonlight, eventually they called off their nighttime guards when they realised she was not coming out.
She never left her home because she was sad. They were all dead, the humans had hunted them down. All her family wanted to do was care for their treasures. Clean them, polish them, note down their individual characteristics and display them, hanging them up in the trophy rooms. But the humans could not stand this, couldn't stand to have their possessions taken, their collections disrupted.
All of her treasures had dulled and lost their shine as the moons passed, and she could not stand to gaze upon them hanging lifelessly in her parlour any longer. She waited for the coolest night, wrapped herself up in her soft cloaks, and trespassed into the capital through the sewage system. She stopped to feed.
The night was quiet, free of the humans' occasional celebrations. She acquired the clothes of one of their females. The female had no treasures. She sulked. The females normally had treasures. She left her.
This was one of their bigger houses, normally rich in treasures. She felt dizzy when she thought about the future. She climbed through the window and searched through the darkness.
A girl child was sitting on the floor. She looked up at her visitor, and gurgled, charmed at the sight of her. She was in her undergarments, and her hair was short and pretty.Read more >
“I love you mummy,” she says, climbing into my lap. The queue of priorities reorder their places in my mind. I shuffle her hips closer, envelope her in my arms, rest my head on her head, and listen.
My mouth, brushing her downy ears, whispers warmth into her heart. I kiss her silky hair, humming, gently rocking. She presses the side of her face, with jigsaw precision, against my less than before breasts. Perhaps, they still contain a half memory of drunk-on-milk deep sleep?
This precious, unplanned moment contains no fear. She lifts her head to look, through clumped teary lashes, close up, into my face. She sees no lines or shadows. My smile is her lifelong invitation to take that seat, until the day she, like her brothers before her, feels too big, too clunky, too old for my then to become redundant lap.
The day was long. A summer of flies and heat. Of dust, rising. In the meadow, you played in the long grass, chasing butterflies while the bees buzzed somewhere. Arms and legs scratched and bloodied by grass and thorns.
Overhead, around mid-day, she had pointed at the sky and told you to, ‘Look! Look!’
A bird there, hovering in the blue, and the white, white glare of a summer high sun. You had to squint to see it.
‘A kite,’ she said.
You shook your head. Because a kite has a sting. A kite is yellow and has a shape you cannot name. Neither circle nor square. Funny that she should not know this.
And then, it is over too soon. Back home, she said, ‘time to wash the day off,’ and you had wanted to run, because the dirt and the dust and the blood were all too perfect.
And again, why did she not understand this?
The smell of soap. Creamy and perfumed. Lavender filling the room. You close your eyes and breathe it in. Breathe in the day again, the smells of summer, while she touches your skin. The gentle smoothing away of dirt and dust and blood, not as bad as you feared.Read more >
On brooks of velvet You smelt like salt Feet dipped in the plunge-pool Cradled by stones, calluses I loved to watch you wash
Goosebumps on goosethighs You’d talk me through The whys, cheek touching Breath like peppermint Water slowly darkened with Garden-dirt and grass
Now, tables turned You in that same basin I’ll try to be gentle as Then. You are the Child now: pink and plump forever.
Outside, the men teach the boys how not to cry, how to withhold their shame, to stand up for their pride, defend all their boundaries, to do what is necessary, to bang their hand on the table or throw things across the room. Sometimes, It gets physical, tears rise and fall. After a while a fortress surrounds the heart, They toughen, prepared for whatever will be meted out. Once the clamps are in place, their sensitivities recede, and they turn to face a mirrored world they see as cold and cruel.
Inside, something else is going on, where the gates are left open, a softening, a feminizing trait they will one day come to yearn for. It reminds them of the womb they emerged from, the tender touch of their youth the cajoling voice of mother teasing them to unclench their fist, causing the man to stutter in rediscovery. It is the only thing that keeps them from becoming wandering lawless beasts.
Herein, It is a common Wednesday, time for the weekly bath. What transpires is a tender, maternal, intrinsically female ritual to do with the washing of the feet, and by extension, how to begin again, Read more >
Was this the moment we were supposed to remember? One little piggy under water and nine more wishing they knew what would happen next.
Wasn’t this how our belly button muttered truth? Telling a story of how we were connected even years later when we might forget it.
Was her robe always that long? Even on the mornings when she got up to see the boys off on their paper routes?
Did she really prefer her clothes in stripes? Maybe he picked that for her after she chose the forget-me-not wallpaper.
If my foot tipped the side of the bowl and the water ran on the old carpet or tipped the pitcher and broke it
did it matter then or was it later?
This little piggy reminds me of how unfair it was. It does. Oink oink oink, I am five again. As I travel down its slopes I slip and stumble and fall. This little piggy makes me forget that I am now soaked in soothing, lovely, warm water. The fresh scent of it. Lavender. All the bubbles I could wish for. Just rolling around in it. All of my own making. This little piggy tends to bring out the oink in me. Has me rolling around in something else alright. Spreading the stink of it everywhere I go. This little piggy. Shameful. This little piggy forgets gratitude for all that is. In this free market universe.
In my mind I am but three Bereft of all my adult stress, With mother’s arms embracing me
Enduring love can set me free As to her heart I gently press. In my mind I am but three
My future trials I cannot see – What lies ahead an empty guess, With mother’s arms embracing me
A grown up, I am all at sea With feelings I try hard to suppress. In my mind I am but three
Does past life really hold the key To actions I cannot confess? With mother’s arms embracing me
In comfort, I little could foresee My life would end in such a mess. In my mind I am but three, With mother’s arms embracing me
domestic placidity follows the writhing rhythm of countless mundane tasks relentless routines of the untroubled home
bely requisite tranquility immaculate pristine flawless model rooms fatuous shells which mask helpless powerless unarticulated groans
rising from churning acidity bitter bile from deep within hurt unspoken questions unasked thrown into profound depths unknown
Rest on my lap, Let me put your swollen feet into the water I poured from this flowered vase.
Let me cradle first one foot Then the other in my palm, Work out the dirt from between Your tiny toes.
Our heads together watch me Work. I feel the heat Of your head next to mine. It is quiet away from muffled
Noise of horses snuffle, Cart rattle on cobblestones in the street outside. Tomorrow you'll be back
to work for twelve hours in clatter and dust of the linen mill. Enjoy this quiet my little one.
Let’s wash your feet in milk. Tell me how sweet and cooling it was – eighteen years later, when we meet again. You are my daughter and do you see, do you know, that the hardest part of love is keeping milk from going sour? One day, they will tell you.
Let me hold you. Let me hold you again, before the scene changes and you run barefoot into other rooms.
I am not your mother, but I exist, in order to make your little life splendid. One day, you will remember.
I bathe your feet new little woman feel the touch of difference
for deep within your unclothed innocence a voice is being nurtured.
These feet little woman will carry that voice.
You will meet sisters along the way and learn to raise those voices.
There will be walls to climb little woman climb high and if
they should remove one foot from you climb higher.
If one day you have no shoes remember your voice is leaving footprints.
Should that voice trip on the trodden path walk on water.
The road was long. Each step I took You took one more. Your hand always in mine, Your steps echoed mine. We skipped light, Glancing off uneven Pathways like shallow Water tumbling over Glistening cold rocks.
Our braided arms swayed Like a rope swinging From an oak bough. Only when a sullen sun Dissolved like a lemon Drop on the city’s tongue Did our bodies turn to lead, Our eyes catch shadows That stole catlike to our door.
I gather you into my lap. You lean into the soft harbor From which you swam Shedding fins and gills For lungs, arms, and legs To walk dirt and cobblestone Roads, to fold damp blades Of meadow grass, to dig Your toes in the thick of carpets, To patter-dance on wooden boards. Read more >
The wee soul's never been to market she's always left at home she's told it takes too long
At bath time I speak to her of little piggies she tells me they're her toes
After bath time I feed her
hold her close 'til mummy decides to come home
I wash your two feet. Just as my mother did for me and my grandmother did for her.
I wash your two feet. I tell you stories about the great woman you will become. And of joys you have yet to imagine.
I wash your two feet. I don’t trouble you with warnings of the challenges you will face or the people who will try to hurt you.
I wash your two feet. Life is long and childhood is short and I know we won’t share many more moments like this.
I wash your two feet. So that one day you’ll be able to stand on them and walk your own path.
They took a short cut through the flower market on the way to kindergarten. So early in the morning, but the men were already clearing up, boxes of blooms all sold out. Fallen petals though, sometimes a whole rose to pick up. Mama called Claudia on, told her not to kick the flower pulp with her good shoes. This Little Piggy stayed at home. Claudia wished she could have stayed at home. Kindergarten was strange smells: long-cooked vegetables, the toddlers’ flooded toilet, wax crayons and too ripe bananas. Routines to remember, squiggles that people told her made up her name. And no Mama all day long. By dinner time she was ready to leave but This Little Piggy had roast beef, gravy, mashed-not-roasted potatoes. These were the parts Claudia liked. Not the orange discs of carrot. Not the watery cabbage. Especially not the roasted parsnips pretending to be roast potatoes that they tried to make her eat all up. This Little Piggy had none. At kindergarten she learned that if she didn’t eat her main she got no pudding, even if it was her favourite. She sat quietly while the others scoffed chocolate ice cream with their mouths open and didn’t talk to her. She drank her water and tried not to cry. And this Little Piggy cried wee, wee, wee but no one at kindergarten seemed to hear until it was too late. Warm and slippery down her legs, staining her new white socks, even puddling inside her good shoes. Squelching as she walked all the way home. Mama wasn’t angry. Instead she said, never mind, and, we’ll get you clean. And yes you can have pudding. And yes I will say the rhyme and play the game and tickle you until you laugh and laugh but never until you scream.
And one day it will be the sea again; close your eyes and travel through time. We’ll go to the beach on a big train, and one day you’ll see the sea again. The sun will shine on your playpen; you’ll have a memory, perfect, sublime. And one day it will be the sea again; close your eyes and travel through time.
I saw a concave knitting beneath your twinkling eye splash of talks and splash of memories, Mother, rub my sins hard as death bright as sunflower-toasts rub my thighs, rub my thoughts fastening my back, erecting my mind. In the eye of mundane truths and lives of insect-bites plaster this eggshell body with bubble and foam a star kissing another star. Your eyes soft as my belly-button with hands of vertical stripes and patterns like a lullaby, I often see your face in my dreams, Mother, countless motions of twists. I die each night to feel this salty-love – a paroxysm of your body.
Why does the air smell green when it rains?
Your feet got wet in the grass and you wanted a bath to wash the cold away. So we went to bed late and bathed. I would give you anything – I would give you the ocean just to say The world is yours.
[One day we will go to the sea]
For now, a basin, A hand on your waist to say We're home now and safe.
[Dip your toes in. In the morning the air will still be green]
She would read the encyclopedia as she cooked, stirring the contents of a heavy-bottomed pot with her left hand while holding the book aloft with her right. I always wondered how she did it; it was difficult for me to lift the book, even with both hands. I should have known—my mother was one of the strong ones.
“I’d also like one of these,” she’d told the bored cashier in the saggy red apron-vest. With grimy hands, the cashier had rung up the leathery volume, dumping it into the bag without regard to the fragile tomatoes and plums and bread within. My mother had promptly removed the book, tucking it deeply under her arm, without a word of complaint.
When the book sat idle, I’d open it, pressing my nose into the pages, breathing in as if I could smell the trees that had birthed them. I imagined blue sky, cracked leaves, ebony soil, a scent as fresh as the mysteries the volume contained. Flipping through, I’d chance upon a set of pages that were thinned and crinkly, where red sauce had splattered and had been carefully wiped away. I'd lay my cheek on these pages, knowing my mother had laid hands on them. It was a secretive, shared experience, one without words between us, but with words nonetheless.
“Cuboid. Navicular. Cuneiform. Metatarsals. Phalange.” Her soapy hands would glide down the length of my feet as she washed them, naming each bone. Balancing me carefully, holding me firmly, a soft, satisfied smile on her face. Bath time was more than just bathing, getting clean; it was a daily anatomy lesson. Yesterday she’d been in the E’s—and I’d heard words like lobule, helix, and auricle, as the warm towel traced my ear.
She probably thought I wasn’t listening on those nights. I was.Read more >
The eye has decided it will not read today; scorning its owners pleas, the extraneous imperatives and dismissing the ability to see, it closes at approach of text.
Its partner derided host’s attempts to allay its needless loyalty.
Another bathed my child today – custom which has long abided – as they do with all deceased before throwing on the dirt.
The prayer book blurs again.
I put my feet in the pot the old fashioned way Very cold, tingly. Playing in the puddles, everything muddy All the dirt on the floor. Mother took out a jug and a dish Carried me over Took off my filthy pants, shirt and wellies Put my two feet inside the big bowl poured cold cold water all over it. She wiped me up with a cloth as best as she could and said: “Take a bath later!” Clean again, I am sunny Time to go find another puddle to jump in!
With no clothes on, true freedom beckons near, And cool, light breezes calm my prickled skin, Until I think a strange and silly fear: How would that water feel with my feet in it? That old tin jug is colder than crushed ice; It chills the blood that runs through my flushed cheeks. That basin does not do much to entice: From me it garners some protesting squeaks. With your strong arms you hold me very still; In your rough skirts I can feel gentle heat, And on your lap I sit and watch you spill The water from the jug onto my feet. They both now in the basin calmly stand With you rubbing dirt off them; I relax, Remembering the feeling of your hand, Secure in thought that time's stopped in its tracks. The day will come when I’ll be tall like you, And I’ll no longer fit into your lap, So moments like these are ones I’ll review; They’ll be the ones that'll dash free from time’s trap
Time and sun have left their mark, mapped your day, your play. Defined your soft edges. From your feet, I wash the day, venerate your presence. For those moments, you allow me to hold you close, feel the pulse that once resided within me.
Stubborn. Always the stubborn one. The waited for daughter who wishes she was another. Leaves time at home, along with dresses. Runs to abandonment, gathering the verdant; my butterfly.
When there are no words there is touch. I do not remember you ever hugging me. But when I was small you held me. I have seen the photographs. You are smiling in those photographs in which you are holding me.
When I fell on the road, you cleaned the wound on my knee and put a bread poultice on it to draw out the grit. It is white and smooth, the scar on my right knee. The wound healed cleanly, thanks to you. You set me on my feet, literally so. My feet have carried me round the world and I have taken it, largely, for granted – that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has brought me to this day and that soon I will stand and walk out into the sunshine, easily.
But in houses through this town there are people who can no longer do this. People who sit and wait for someone else to take them out into the sunshine, a someone who may never come. They too, these people unknown to me, were once five years old; they ran barefoot without a care, as I did. A tumble or the sudden stab of a thorn in a heel then brought quick tears, but a mother’s touch and the benediction of warm water meant the memory did not stay. We all ran out again soon enough into that sunshine which – in our memories – shone through all the summer days of our childhood.Read more >
Mary Cassatt's well-known painting Degas-esque, 'The Child's Bath' Ideas drift – the Madonna and Jesus Cleansing, purifying; familial bonds Tenderness, togetherness, education Sunday grace, calmness embodied Freed of artifice or guile A moment in time, fragile Art galleries' depictions gilt-framed – Painters neglected or acclaimed
A golden harp plays in the ether Reverberating through centuries
Fragrant whiff of twilight creeping Eucalyptus linen fresh Jug and bowl cracked slumber schooling Water printing splatter trail stepped Dripping droplets, stirring distance Rock pool tiptoe damp cold floors Yearning mother's soft word spoken Reassurance whispered love of chance Oven roasting hay wain summer Swirling bed time hot coal heaven Open fires kindling sparked
candy striped gown hair bun double crown honeycomb memories
come and go hand in hand with the morning mud
pink lavender sugar plum ladybird green thumb milk teeth baby steps
tippy toe into the bowl our daily divination
watch it slowly wash the hours
and tend to her like freshwater river
Mother bathes you and your body will remember– the comfort of her arms will anchor your dreams a counterweight to all the grief the years may bring because once you were held perfect in the perfect curve of her devotion that one safe place everything depends on her hand firm at your waist her head tilted in to yours her embrace at once secure and open that bright blue and yellow morning solid footing for whatever road you take
No one steps into this quiet room where sunlight and a mother’s love warm her clammy skin. Foreshortened faces, familiarity of flesh. Among wild constellations of clashing colour, a child’s pale body beams in moonlike nudity.
Squeeze of foot matched by press of thigh – the angle bats the eye back and forth, a silent carriage return. No Madonna and boy child here – just the newness of old love.
The sun shines on us, it's a captured landscape. It’s a magnetic bond, her epic lessons. How you stay alive. That is life. This is living. This long race is our odyssey, it hungers for black or white. I don’t remember the blink, the flinch, the harrow of this angled view. Do I remember when she washed my feet, or scrubbed my knees? No. I don’t.
But there’s serenity in the scent of tar coal soap and lavender pillows and sun-dried cotton sheets. Her dimpled chin makes me smile as much as my child’s laugh. My mother is the softest colour. The shape of life. My future. I don’t remember her stormy moments of rain; I leave that drear to others. Do I remember summer’s cloudless sky, or my mother’s hazel eyes? Yes. I do.
A single memory overrides her thoughts. She remembers a time before this moment, an easier time of lighthearted laughter and warm embraces. She looks on at the man standing before her and sees his son within those cold brown eyes. The son she loves so dearly. The son who is being eaten up by hatred, trying to piece himself together in the midst of the confusion.
She remembers the smell of dust on him, as she cleaned his little feet in the warm water. His hair was thick and curled, as it is now, falling gracefully around his flushed face like a hyacinth in bloom. His rounded body nestled comfortably in the curve of her own, cheeks brushing against one another. She loved him like he were her own. She wanted to fill the gaps his father had left behind as best she could, to smooth them over with clay and stone and fill the cracks with precious metals.
But she could not mend him.
carve out the belly, the womb with a bloody blade rename yourself the ripper bleeding every month day after day, staining towels for this is the price of rags to riches as if a babe in the arms is a tender bird to which every woman desires aspires but this is nothing yet another backstabbing she-bitched two-faced lie some women just like to fuck it's as simple and clean as that period.