My mother spent my teenage years saying
she couldn’t take it anymore, but she did.
She had no choice but to take it
7 days a week.
Chugging coffee over the sink
before her commute to work, looking out
the back window where the sun would cut
into the morning. A lit cigarette
in the ashtray beside her.
At night she’d make a pot of spaghetti
swollen double size on account
of the hour on boil. A sheen of grease
on the sauce from the ground beef
she never drained.
Among the days of taking it were the nights
of vodka roulette, I never knowing which
mother would show up:
The funny mother who slurred her words
and danced me into the dining room
where the good china would click
in step with our feet.
Or the other one who knew how
to exact the maximum pain
per square inch of fingernail.
She was some kind of crazy I promised
myself I’d never become.
There are a lot of things we shoulder
that if we were asked we’d rather decline:
a night lost in the woods, a month
spent nursing an incision where a fist-sized
mass of cancer has been removed.
The phone calls where it’s obvious
her memory is skipping stones across a pond.
To her, my daughter is always in the sixth
grade, not in high school. My son
still plays with toy cars she sends
and the tooth fairy leaves you money
for your teeth rather than taking a wrench
to your jaw because you took too long
to find the TV remote.
Unable to take it, she continues even now,
rolling down the window of her car
as she gives the woman at the pharmacy
her order: Big Mac, no pickle, fries.
This poem appeared in Ponder Review, Vol. 4, 2020