“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

KHADIJAH QUEEN

How not to hate your dying mother who more than once tried to kill you


Listen to “Bells for Her,” and think about amends. Use noise-cancelling headphones
when she whistles. Cackles. Eats, slurps, belches, smacks. Quotes
Farrakhan and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Rants about whitefolks. Rants
about laundry. Rants about your brother-in-law, your son, your father, your ex,
always men. Talks about whatsrightwhatsrightwhatsright. Talks. Remember
how much you fight for care as her mind slow-shatters. Practice yoga in the lowlit
morning, when the only sounds are calm. Try to beat her
into the kitchen to make your smoothie. Fail. Listen to her once-melodic voice
hum and scratch out a song you don’t know. Forget about how she said
you should never sing, your voice wasn’t up to it. Scratch. Move the unbreakable
dishes to a lower shelf, so she can reach them. Forget about the time
she slapped you to the floor for leaving the refrigerator door open,
then lay on the orange couch, arm over her eyes, in a drunken sleep, and forgot
whatever she did. Leave the refrigerator open. More Tori. Watch the arctic
squirrel shiver herself awake and think about Black women and girls
cop-shot in their beds. Accept that spiders will
web up the bottoms of your windows if you don’t go out on the porch.
No one goes out on the porch anymore, if they’re in danger.
You’re in danger everywhere. Even your own house.

 

 

My mother wants to do everything, but


At the checkout line, she inspects all the produce
I’d chosen without her, loaded into green
compostable bags. Smile sly, eyes aslant,
This one don’t look good, she tells me,
referring to one of the Meyer lemons I picked to make
gluten-free lemon bars for my son as a surprise,
turning the knotted oval in her palm to note imperfections.
I want to say they’re supposed to look different,
a deeper yellow. But I don’t want to argue, check my tone
after taking in a tired breath, act caught: Okay.
I keep putting our food on the conveyor: canned black beans,
frozen peas, fresh ginger, vegan oat bread, red peppers.
My mother tries to overtake me, but, at 81, can’t move
that fast. She gets in the way. I use my body to help her
feel like she’s not: step back, wait. The cashier
takes an orange out of a paper bag, then asks my mother
if the oranges are navel oranges. I don’t know,
she scoffs, they’re just oranges, as if the cashier’s effort at precision
insults her. I nod. Halfway home she talks about the thinner skin
of other oranges, the ones whose names she can’t remember
but describes via ease of peeling. She means Valencia.
I say nothing, since she doesn’t ask if I know; she’s in a world,
smooth rinds spiraling under her nails without breaking,
juice trickling down her wrist if she’s not careful enough.
She never wants to stop.

Appears in this issue
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on tumblr
Khadijah Queen, PhD is the author of six books, including I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On (YesYes Books 2017), praised in O Magazine, The New Yorker, Rain Taxi, Los Angeles Review. Read more