This poem was published in Cirque‘s Winter 2015 issue. It was written around 2001. It remained dormant until 2015, when I decided to revise it and submit it for publication. Despite some revision, little changed from old version to the final published version.
A side note: if you have never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, do yourself a favor and check out this coming-of-age classic!
But what makes you get a baby often
starts with a kiss…Remember Joanna.
–Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
At 14, I learned that I was Joanna’s baby.
The realization was somewhere
between sixth grade,
and sex education.
I was different—
not in the typical angst way,
for I stayed out of trouble,
in a small town
where no one divorced,
where everyone went to your church,
or some church,
where everyone wanted to know you,
or at least, your business—
I was an unwedded birth when good
girls did not keep their babies.
I’m your mother and father,
my mother would say,
and I believed her.
I told everyone I had no father,
until I became older and realized
the “oh” would be followed
by the awkward nod,
a shuffle of feet,
or rattle of ice in a drinking cup,
when I told them
my parents had not married,
nor had I had any contact
Eventually I caught on;
it was a signal—
we could no longer be friends.
Later, in my college years
the questions would be more demanding:
Do you know who he is?
Wouldn’t you like to know?
Aren’t you curious?
I would lie and say no.
Like all of the stones that were hurled at Joanna,
I knew my mother had her scars.
She would remind me often that
she was a good mother
(and to the best of her ability she was),
It was her attempt to negate those who thought otherwise
because she chose to break the rules.
So, what “lessons” did Joanna share
with her child?
I don’t fully know her pain
(or his name),
aside from the assurances of her mothering,
the glares and the asides.
She never shared her wounds,
and the wounds from the rocks that hit me
never healed either.