*Content Warning: Eating Disorders/Physical Violence or Abuse/Suicide or Self Harm*

Tender Mother

One word to describe my mother is tender
Tender mother who spends a year floating around the room in a vintage nightgown
Tender mother who dresses the table in the afternoon with past-due bills
Tender mother who waits to eat her first meal after I’ve had mine,
Tender mother who reuses the same egg pan and rubber spatula
Tender mother who erases the presence of dogs from a room with body spray and essential oils
Tender mother who runs from the roaches and crickets and moths
Tender mother who refuses to give me time to heal after a bad breakup—
strong, unbreakable, you should be, you should be
Tender mother who leaves the garage door open in case she wants to leave again
Tender mother who weeps when the curly hair from her brushed head falls out
Tender mother who relies on no one but herself to do inglorious work
Tender mother who prays for courage at the same time she prays for a new job—
anything but nursing, anything, anything
Tender mother who demands to know, God, why did you permit this?
Tender mother who doesn’t expect an answer, but listens for the closing
Tender mother who buys two bags of ripe lemons and watches them rot in the summer—
humidity from another low-grade hurricane blowing through
Tender mother who beats excuses against my back to relieve pressure on herself
Tender mother who apologizes, I’m sorry, so I always find a way to forgive her
Tender mother who takes my hands in her hands and offers me stones for throwing—
I no longer trust myself in the mirror, woman teaching me new words
Tender mother who faces me facing her, the white sun behind my eyes
Tender mother who named me princess because I am: helpless to help her help me
Nothing matters but never changing. 40 years ago, she was committed to this and then
I came and spoiled one chance at an easy life. If only I’d been smaller / softer / quieter,
I could have slipped away. She gave me a cracked window / a break out plan / a pair of sturdy traveling clothes, but she didn’t prepare me for the world. Not like other children, other girls whose mothers didn’t fear them having a voice, a passion for arguing a different point of view. No, she put me where she always put me: behind glass / in the cherry-wood cabinet / in place of a hand carved statue of the blessed virgin, from Mexico. What would you do without me, she asks, to test my resolve. She already knows the meaning of my false silence. The dark blue X painted over where my smile should be

About the Author

Sarah-Marissa Marquez (she/her) is an MLIS student at San Jose State University. She is based in Los Angeles and has work published and forthcoming in various magazines and journals, including Madrigal Press, Mud Season Review, Salamander, SHIFT, and Statement Magazine. When not writing, she can be found on Threads @smclaire.jmj, Twitter @Sarahmarissa338, and exploring the fediverse @sarahmarissa_mz@creativewriting.social