A mother named her child Rumor
A mother named her child Rumor. The child was a boy, the child was a girl, the child was a changing changeling, the child was blessed and spun from silk, was monstrous and wore a silver comb in its long beard. The child was born with teeth. The child was born without teeth. The child was born with three sets of teeth. Its father’s teeth. When the child was born the father’s teeth fell out. The child was fatherless, and the father never had children. The mother named her child Rumor, and moved up the hill so they could see everyone coming.
A mother knew herself to be unlovable, but presented herself continually for love. She knew this presentation to be ungainly with her children in tow, but gained purchase, anyhow. In a series of photographs she appears young, bright, and muscled, though in reality she sagged and her liver was stippled. In reality blood leaked from one organ into another, ill-timed. In real time she said mean reds and a lover asked what? She could not move home because she was a mother and meant to be herself a home. Instead, she tried to get more people to move into her. It became crowded and they often left before dinner was over. She couldn’t ask anyone for money, but people sent her embroideries, wilted vines of passion flower, dried dates, seder plates, wool socks that had belonged to their own sweet progenitors, books of poems, honey from the sternest of their hives, a small brass bear that she secreted away in a wooden box filled otherwise with glass marbles, which she then stuffed in the closet of a relative whose home she’d one day return to only upon that relative’s death. Why did she do things like this? She traveled across the country when such things were still possible with a fine enamel door knob in her carryon. She brought several rocks of Himalayan salt, a brass-footed porcelain fruit bowl, an intricate woven blanket half-faded by sun, and all her pills. That’s not true. She only brought some of her pills for fear she would otherwise wander off in the woods, take all her pills, lie down under a black walnut tree, and wait for evening to fall. While she traveled in and out of love with her children—and their mosquito bites and lice and fevers and headaches and nightmares about tripping on the path just as dark clouds rolled in as she turned a corner never looking back, a nightmare that repeated each night wakefulness and crying provoked—the Buddhist teacher died. His teaching came over the internet. He was new to her and she’d hoped to meet him in the future but he went to town, entered a coma, and never came back. That, she thought, is an approbation. That, she thought, is a sign. To abide. Each and every day. Until it is no longer time to abide.
14. A mother watches her daughter slice off her own foot. The mother becomes irritated as the daughter streaks blood from one room to the next. Bloody toe prints the mother must follow behind wiping up with bleach. Blood streaked on the last swatch of new upholstery. All the more vexing is the daughter’s insistence that she doesn’t need any help, her habit of using the wrong tool for the job, all the howling she’s doing about how scary her foot looks, dangling there. It huuuurts she cries. Well, something has to, the mother snaps. The mother is so angry at herself for having given birth to her daughter in a trap that requires the gnawing off of a foot.
17. It took a mother many years to become harder than she looked, and then just as many years again to become as gentle. When she was hard she loved hard and took what was given her. She ran her fingers swiftly across the keyboard until the sun came up, then across the flat of one baby’s forehead, and then another. She pulled milk from her body and stored it in neatly frozen plastic sacks, she turned up the yellow dial. She rinsed the coffee grinds from the gold filter and the gold ring from her finger. Later her children would enter her room and say to her sleeping form I feel like I’ve lost something but I don’t know what I’ve lost. I’ll look for it, she’d tell them rising up from sleep light as a feather stiff as a board. Later, she would have plenty of lovers. Though this one would be too big and that one too small, another too hot, another too cold, she’d take them as they were. Later, her head would throb just as persistently and she’d be older to boot. For all this, she had to soften. She no longer needed those who touched her to feel the needles just below the surface of her skin. She needed them to walk away petted and new. Her children would need her to comfort them, as her expectations for babies had been too high and she’d made them worry themselves ill-prepared for living, Her new town would be just as hard as her old town, the vegetation thorny and dry, the insects armored or poisonous, the sand unsteady underfoot. When the rain came, bees poured down, too. When the wind came up, birds were struck from the sky and died on the spot in her yard, their down showing their beaks pursed. She knew owls to have their ears pointed this way and that, and their skulls so full of eye their brains sat down in their throats. Who was she to be hard any longer? She carved her skin and uncarved it and paid a woman with a past to smooth out the raised scars. She was soothing and a song besides, when she could be, which was sometimes. When she walked her children to the school bus, the rest of the neighborhood children said meow meow in greeting. She was special to them. Her rights had been violated, so though older than most of the parents, she remembered what it felt like to be a child, unloved and unwelcome to any form of justice. You don’t sound angry, people said. Oh I’m bitter, she assured them but I’m also sweet, be sweet with me now. And for a day or two they would.
Danielle Pafunda is author of nine books, including the recent Beshrew (Dusie Press), The Book of Scab (Ricochet Editions), and the forthcoming Spite (Ahsahta Press 2020). She has taught at the University of California San Diego, University of Maine Orono, and soon Rochester Institute of Technology.