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This is Not a Poem About My Mother




C and I are navigating shower sex when I think

of my mother.

At 8, I kissed my first

cigarette. Crouched under a bathroom sink, I sucked

the wrong end of a half

smoked navy cut, my palms stuck to the wall

in celebration or balance or both.

My mother walked in without knocking, crushed

my coolness to ash and we never spoke about it again.



In another country, I am still afraid of my mother

walking in on knowledge she doesn’t want.

Like how cigarette and woman come

together in the bedroom, the only warmth—my flame-licked

skin, and her tensed tongue armed to tease them both.



Over the phone, my mother says: “Everyone has father issues these days. To be a successful poet, you should make up mother issues.”



Mothers are a black thread twisted around my shoulder

blades wrapped into stiffness.

C says love, says won’t you meet

my Mamma, says what does your mother look /

like? I say love.

say Mother America say Mother India say Mother of mine who cannot with my ecstasy



I tell C no one loves me like a mother would.

C says no one loves a fragile queer. I choke

on the thread as it slices words out:

Say Ma say Mother America say Mother India say love me like a mother won’t.

What I am trying to say is:
C slips on soap

and my arms—maddening in its fumbles—become

my mother’s

My shoulder shoved

against the chill of mirror reflects my mother’s

My thirst tumbles

down C’s throat, burns

into the sound of my mother.

That sometimes, I laugh at my jokes for too long when no one else does, & turn into my mother.

Sreshtha Sen is a poet from Delhi, India. She studied Literatures in English from Delhi University and completed her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She currently lives and teaches in New York and is the 2017-18 Readings and Workshops Fellow at Poets & Writers.

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