Sunday morning I come to church,
in the pew, my mother; at the altar, my mother; acolyting, my mother.
The Rev. begins to speak and up there, yes, my mother again.
Everywhere I look there are my mothers. Jesus, the one they call Christ? Yes, that is my mother. His mother? My mother.
It’s not Sunday morning it’s every morning. Sun up, the bells ring to tell me, come.
In school, the ladies who teach French, chemistry, history, etc. are my mother.
I am ten and with ecstasy I age and age, only holier. In the backyard, the pool is dark green and you can see when I bleed in it. It must be my cut leg that bleeds, but no one cares.
Now I am eleven.
Everywhere I look, there is a river. It comes in the park, in my yard, and in the downtown of my good good heart.
Once I am twelve, all of my mothers begin to die. They never stop dying. Here they are ill. There they are injured. Their blows hang around me in the air. They anoint me!
Now I am thirteen.
I tell everyone my mother has died but she hasn’t she lives forever.
She disparages my lies, she’s extremely mortal, she’s middle-aged, she has brown hair.
But they do die.
Your mother is dead, now. She is, go ask her.
The suit man drives the powder blue sedan. Look at the outstanding cake boxes he brings. His slick hair makes a soul band dance. Steady like a train through town.
That’s my father.
He’s dying too.
In downtown Memphis, Tennessee on an obelisk are the words A VERY WORTHY NEGRO.
I’m seventeen and I like to get drunk and pose with the obelisk.
To look up a bluff is to see one’s streets from underneath.
Everyone’s favorite mother says that I am very worthy. She’s dying too.
I keep drinking and return to the pool, this time I get drowsy. My friend pulls me out.
My parents are very rich but no one cares. Mothers nationwide grow ill, iller.
First what happens is everyone dies. Then this other girl we knew, she kills her mother. With a knife. Maybe several knives.
She lies about it, but it doesn’t work.
In jail, she loses her accent. Now she talks like a black girl,
also she gets fat.
This girl may too be my mother, one can’t be sure. Certainly the lawyers, the bloggers, the distant relatives are somebody’s mother.
The first time someone died I didn’t live here yet. Still, she did die, a knot in her brain.
On the shaky metal staircase where the dead live, she is always asleep. I cannot see her face but I know she is there. Another girl gets a knot in her brain, she dies too.
To live in a swamp town is to live where the best water flows underfoot. We don’t have basements, only women from here to every horizon sprawled like good cows.
The dreadful thing that isn’t dreadful tomorrow is my gospel lie. My mother isn’t this mother. The mother on the staircase will not come down.
Because of this, I’ll never die.
Molly Rose Quinn was raised in Memphis, Tennessee where this poem takes place. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Underwater New York, Coconut, Two Serious Ladies, No, dear, Four Way Review, The Fiddleback, Singing Saw Press' Parallax, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn. She works for the literary programs at Symphony Space in Manhattan, and also with the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Moby-Dick Marathon NYC, and The Atlas Review.