April 27, 2015 § 1 Comment

High-context was my mother tongue—
my mother teaching me contortionism
how to fold yourself up small

Self, mediated to the tastes and needs of
the home and the church and the town,
monitoring, evaluating
editing everything before it left my lips
before the impulse moved my body
(“we don’t do that”
(“we don’t act like that”
(“you’re embarrassing me”
(warning phrases that You’re Doing It Wrong
(Punishment Will Follow When We Get Home
(Shape Up Now)

and more truly, underneath it all,
become Acceptable,
shape into what Mother wants,
twist all out of true
to mold around Her needs
the entire household bending
to the gravity well of Mom,
egg-shells of Her moods beneath our feet
treading light and careful, watching
Her every cue and unstated desire
learning to read minds just
to keep the peace
and be a little bit

I started unlearning it the moment I left home
stretching my wings outside the cage of adolescence
breathing deep for the first time in my life
and then, with a jolt, folding back in
wide-eyed, frightful,
waiting for an oppressive stare
the heaviness of Disapproval
that didn’t come.

I sought a therapist’s couch
afraid of becoming Her—
and learning, as I did,
how to see myself
how to feel again
speak my truth with only a moderate amount of fear.

I cut Her bindings when I cut my hair
learned to spread myself out large
let a shiny black bird teach me its harsh voice
and raucous ways, learned
to care for my own survival
a need to breathe and move and be
no matter what was Proper.

And when a lover tried to box me back in again
make me Hers and make me tame
For love, I tried – more than I’d tried in youth
contorting myself to Her desires
carving away pieces of myself to fit Her life
to keep the peace
and be a little bit

but I’d grown too large into my own shape
my edges were sharper than before
my mouth couldn’t shape Her world
my eyes betrayed my fear and buried fury
and after months of striving
I tore away

and now

I can’t seem to bend into another’s liking
I can’t quite soften my grackle voice
I’ve forgotten how to speak the liquid Southern dialect
of my youth, grown spare as I am
to desert plains and mountain stone.
I try sometimes,
and the trying scrapes the raw places
that She left, rope across the half-healed wounds,
still-knitting muscles tearing like fire
with the twisting of my mind–

I am not as sharply direct as the dragons I admire,
nor as shifting-subtle as the people of my birthplace,
and I do not know yet know the full voice
of my own heart’s tongue.


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