a lingering animosity toward you shadows me:
you left without saying goodbye

even so, I imagine it’s your voice I hear in my head so often
a mother’s advice
do this, don’t do that…do this NOW
I follow it
and it leads me right, mostly
that voice, however harsh

you weren’t the type to say goodbye
you were the type I ran from through the house
switch flailing
stripes on my bare legs
hiding under the desk from you
“come out now or it will be worse if I find you”

you were the prude with dial soap
washing my mouth out.
apparently to parade Barbee around naked
and make a ritual of her going to the toilet was obscene

my teeth clamped down on your fingers
and your eyes opened wide
those tense few moments gave us both time to think
I let go but was surprised that for some reason
you did not punish me for that bite, and you never put soap in my mouth again
a mother’s forgiveness

climbing up on the washing machine
to reach the top of the refrigerator
i broke that cruel switch into little pieces
but when the time came you weren’t foiled
just tore a fresh weapon from the tree outside the back door
a mother’s revenge

But I do remember the impromptu scavenger hunt you sent me on
so bored was I, no kids in the neighborhood
just you and me in that big house
you led me to the chocolate hidden in your night stand drawer
a mother’s kindness

I still have the quilt you made for me just before you left
which I will never use
for fear it will unravel and I’ll have nothing left of you

the song of your voice carrying on like it did
so authoritative and reasonable
i marveled at your wisdom, when your temper was calm

A strong memory of drawing pictures with you, so impressed with your ability
but tainted by you scolding me for trying to draw a picture of God
saying how it was a sin to draw an image of the Almighty
a mother’s shortcoming

But you were my advocate when my teenage brothers didn’t want to bring their kid sister along.
You dressed me in designer clothes.
You let me lick the cake batter off the spoon.
and probably in a million ways I don’t remember
you cared for me and loved me
But mostly I remember your harshness. A mother’s reprimand.

I remember the religious travelers crammed into your
bedroom as you paled
 “go play outside” you said, but it was so cold I squeezed into the dog kennel
new born puppies with barely open eyes
lapping my ankles
warming my lap
I recall you fed the runt with a baby bottle
a mother’s nurturing

it made you so mad when I burst into your room
so excited to tell you something,
interrupting the prayer circle of these strangers camped in our house
“she knows better” you announced
I didn’t.
I didn’t understand why you were in bed or why those strangers were there.
a mother’s deathbed

Your sister died the week before you did
and since you couldn’t get out of bed, you sent us to Oklahoma for the funeral.
I saw Mary Jane and Betsy crying so bitterly to lose their mother.

At your funeral, I tried so hard to cry. I knew it was wrong not to cry.
But I did cry. Later.
When your absence leached into the walls of our empty house 
leaving just me and my disillusioned father
who was nourished only with Beefeaters Gin…
 “Come back inside, daddy” but he was so far gone
staggering around our backyard talking to the spirits
he couldn’t hear or see me

everyone disappeared after you left except daddy and we were all alone.
On occasion we would see old family friends
and they would remark on how beautiful you were,
what a cultured and poised woman you were. 
How impeccably dressed.
I would look up at them in my stained dress and wonder
if I could ever be like you.

Occasionally I dream of who I would have become if you’d have stayed.
I know I would be a totally different me if you had.

And even though you did not say goodbye or leave me with memories of
“the perfect mother”
you did start talking to me shortly after you left
maybe that’s your way of not leaving me
why you never had to say good bye

and even though I’m still mad at you

I still listen.

Mary Dixon Henry 1920 to 1968

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