A Mother’s Manifesto
I am afraid to smoke my entire cigarette, so I puff quickly like a frail train and snuff it into the dead bottle of an empty bottled beer. The amber glows neatly, quietly and without a hiss. Where did sound go? I am tucked neatly into my corner pocket bed of the attic. A room I created to escape my family. But my daughter still tramples loudly up the stairs to demand money. My husband’s snores still creep through the walls. My dogs still amble up the stairwell and shed their hair upon my bed. I pretend I mind, and my meticulous habits sweeps up their aftermath. Sweep. Fold. Lament. Polish the wood-paneled floors. I do resent being a family woman, but also love it.
So, here is the story if you would like to hear it. I wake every day and brush my teeth, commute, punch the time-clock, wait for my child to be relieved of scholarly duties and scoop her up when the bell rings. Sometimes I cook a healthy dinner. Most times not. I put on weight. I drink the beers I know I should not. Make love once a month. My story is not uncommon.
Once, when I was thirten years old I stared into the mirror and acknowledged my beauty. My eyes were glowing almonds. Precocious rabid animals.
Knew I would be rich or famous or scandalous one day. I am none of those things.
Still I am happy. Smoke cigarettes when the house has retired. Snuff the smoke. The dogs breathe their dream-heavy sleep. The daughter and husband tucked into their cotton sheets. And I tinker away. An impotent Tesla. Juggling electricity. Scrawl words. Silly happy housewife words. Snub out half-lit cigarettes, so as not to poison the house.
The cherry tip of it, a red-lit beacon. Guiltily exquisite. A small memory of my best addictions. It is all I can hope for.
I never hurt nobody but myself and that’s nobody’s business but my own.
I haven’t written a poem in your likeness for some time.
I tried. I took the broom and beat the cobwebs.
Lit one hissing cigarette after hissing cigarette,
let a dish fall to the floor, a porcelain scream.
I let the quiet shattering happen but could not eek it out.
Then I thought of this. You the young mother,
a knotted belt at your waist, slim and attractive
in photos. Your teeth gleaming and straight
like a string of pearls.
You hosted one birthday party in honor
of me my whole life. I was four years young
and it was a California Easter Sunday.
The kind of Sunday people move to the West Coast for.
You drew caricatures of rabbits and fashioned
yellow tufts of baby ducks. Dressed me in
my best cut-off jeans and plaited my hair.
Posed me in front of the cake, the cousins,
the wrapped gifts.
Picture after picture reveals that I was happy.
Mother, you were perfect as a plum.
Slicing the cake. A knife just a knife in your hand
and nothing more.
I am ten years older than you then.
A whole decade and more of misdirected men
have come and gone for me, a daughter
of my own. Many birthdays since that I
care less to remember.
And it took me this long to notice
the one thing missing from those
Easter photos that long ago day.
Yes, the strong gets more while the weak ones fade.
The Mother Part II
I don’t want to write this poem. Not the
way it will ultimately tell the truth, but I never
could lie when I write. I wished I could.
Wished I could pluck the sweet grass from
the altar and light it’s dead body without second
thought. But everytime I produce flame between
my fingertips I think of all the ways in which you
have died or not died all these years. I have become
less obtuse and more reliant upon easy narrative
and directness of image. Symbol. I wish I could
have lied and written us a sugar cake. Baked a
wish out of thin air, and hair and bird bones.
Instead I lament through prose. Squeeze the ink
of the teeth and pay my therapist’s monthly bill.
I pluck the words from a zippered mouth. Watch
the blood dry in the corners of crooked lip. Pick
scabs as a hobby. The words keep coming though.
And I would love you more if you would ever let me.
But you are an iron cage wearing a smile.
A woman’s too-tightly-wound coat. Your
love is something I could never place.
A Spider – Poem for my Mother
A pregnant spider scurried across my shin
today and I did not kill it. I wondered at my
control to not gag-reflex, murder the thing.
Usually, spindle-legged creatures, with all
their movement and silence spurn me to
hatred. I don’t like being touched without
permission. But she, she was a thing of beauty.
Womb-swollen and desperate. Or in the very
least lost. No hair, just svelte and dangerously
calm. She reminded me of you. Reminded me
of a memory I allowed to let slide down my
throat, web-soft and translucent.
The day my father choked your neck,
your throat was a pregnant shock of red, eyes
swollen and then soft again when he let
you loose. Or did you wrangle free?
I saw a spider in the corner of the kitchen.
Perched above your head, where he held it
and it dented the plaster.
Breathless, suspended and looking nowhere.
Who can look anywhere when being strangled?
He did not. You did not look at me.
But I saw it all. And that tiny witness holding
space, frozen as to not be noticed. To not be
crushed, looked on. Guilty. Innocent.
A thing that didn’t understand
how humans can be so irresponsibly
and casually cruel.
This Wild Fire – What my mother must have thought on the night of her attempted suicide.
The fire was ripe as it tore across my skin. Mango-hot,
koi-heavy with gold. I took the flames of my finger nails,
like sabers and wrenched the heat from my neck. Tore
four talons of plump honey-colored juice from the anterior
jugular vein. Leaked out onto the rug. I was a stain spreading.
Shag carpet testament to the need for my escape.
I wanted the roar to go away. The dizzying house to dissolve.
I thought I saw my daughter fall, but the storm was so thick,
the locust blurred my sight. I did not drop to my knees.
Instead my bathrobe, a wail-song. My hair scripture.
Midnight and it was absolutely fucking biblical.
I ran zig-zag from the house. A panting horse in heat
at the height of her frenzy. For those few minutes, I was
a wild fire of a woman. Drunk on her own blood. Lot’s Wife.
But this time
I did not look back.
Jessica Helen Lopez is City of Albuquerque Poet Laureate, Emeritus and the Poet-In-Residence for the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History from 2014 – 2016. She has also been a featured writer for 30 Poets in their 30’s by MUZZLE and named one of the “10 Up and Coming Lantinx Poets You Need to Know” by international digital publisher and agency, Remezcla. Lopez is a nationally recognized award-winning slam poet, and holds the title of 2012 and 2014 Women of the World City of ABQ Champion. She is a member of the Macondo Foundation. Founded by Sandra Cisneros, it is an association of socially engaged writers united to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor community. Her first collection of poetry, Always Messing with Them Boys (West End Press, 2011) made the Southwest Book of the Year reading list and was also awarded the Zia Book Award presented by NM Women Press. Her second collection of radical feminist poetry, Cunt. Bomb. is published by Swimming with Elephants Publication (2014). Her third collection, The Language of Bleeding: Poems for the International Poetry Festival, Nicaragua (SWEP) is a limited release in honor of her ambassadorial visit to Granada, Nicaragua.
A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the founder of La Palabra – The Word is a Woman collective created for and by women and gender-identified women. Lopez is a Ted Talk speaker alumni and her talk is titled, Spoken Word Poetry that Tells HERstory. A featured poet on PBS Colores!, you may find some of Lopez’s work at these sites – thebakerypoetry.com, newmexicomercury.com, and asusjournal.org, drunkinamidnightchoir.org., Suspect Press, Somos Enscrito Latino Literary Journal, Casita Grande Press, etc. Her work has been anthologized in A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Slam Scene (UNM Press), Earth Ships: A New Mecca Poetry Collection (NM Book Award Finalist she was also a co-editor), Tandem Lit Slam (San Francisco), Adobe Walls, Malpais Review, SLAB Literary Magazine, Courage Anthology: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls (Write Bloody Press) and Learn then Burn: A Modern Poetry Anthology for the Classroom, second ed. (Write Bloody Press). Lopez was the Volunteer Coordinator and planning member for the Poetry Slam Incorporated (PSi) 2015 Women of the World National Poetry Slam Tournament hosted in Albuquerque. An Adjunct Instructor for UNM Chican@Studies Department and Institute of American Indian Arts, she is also a book reviewer for World Literature Today Magazine. Additionally, Lopez is a Chautauqua Scholar with the New Mexico Humanities Council and the Program Director for the National Hispanic Culural Center VOCES Youth Summer Writing Institute.