Poem by Sassy Ross

• October 2016

Portrait of My Mother

The stone-beaten bottle caps
of my mother’s eyes sever sleep.

I pull my hands apart,
draw them close together,
she spins one way then the other,
appearing on my nightstand

as a girl in a garden portrait
taken half a century ago,
her face framed by an oversized bow
fastened to her top plait.

She is just my daughter’s age, two,
and equally averse to photographs,
to being dolled up so as to smile on cue.
I focus long on the dark

details behind her corneas,
move my gaze down to her mouth,
whose underlip my daughter stole,
to the flounce sleeve from which my mother’s

small brown arm emerges
to hold a cluster of Ixora,
red petals rendered gray
in the monochrome. In a flash, childhood is lost.

Rushed toward seed,
my mother’s womb flowers
three times before she leaves her teens.
It is not enough to know

that she loses her grip,
that she retreats to a neighboring island,
“Little England,” until her mind
returns to her or she to it.

It is not enough to ask her mother,
who never speaks on the past,
or my father, a badjohn in his day,
who still boasts about the dog-chain

beatings, about the time
he broke her back, his laughter
warped as the wheels of the ice-cream cart
he pushes through town.

It is not until I turn toward my sleeping tot,
touch her head, watch her breathe, that I realize
that she's the one who fills the space between.
Her breathing holds me, in the dark,

my mother’s eyes hold us both, looking on as I
become the mother I always wanted her to be.

 

Sassy Ross is a native of St. Lucia, who currently resides in New York City. Her work has previously appeared in The Caribbean Review of Books, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, CalabashCaribbean Beat, as well as in the anthology Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean.