Who Lived in a Shoe
It helped that the first one looked like me.
Blonde through the eyes, my mother had said,
meaning lashless, and birdish, and blue.
After that, there were always juice boxes in my fridge,
a stack of diapers in the linen closet, handprints
patted across mirrors I once looked into, instead of past.
I liked my sense of new purpose, sweeping in
on the weekends to relieve a sister so she could sleep,
or get her hair done, or keep an appointment
for dinner out with her husband. I liked the heft
of an infant jutted on my hip, the quick math
of months when a stranger asked how old
my baby was. When they learned to talk,
they called me Mama, sometimes. Sometimes
by accident I called myself that, Mama wants
you to lay your kippy down now, I'd whisper
after baths and reading in rooms aglow with plastic-
starred ceilings and soft background music.
There were also buckles, messes, tantrums, and endless
opening and closing cupboard games, those
bleary lifetimes between waking and naps, between
naps and night. It wasn't that I didn't yearn
in a maternal way (once I even pressed the pump
to my breast and pumped---it suctioned and stretched and
yielded nothing). It's just that I was still single
and searching myself when the freak accident happened.
Never should they all have traveled together!
Please understand, my own parents long since
had passed on, and my worn condo is more threadbare
sock than sturdy shoe. Whatever you've heard
about broth without any bread… the loaf was moldy,
the market closed. As for spankings---the boys
have grown so unruly they're turning into every man
who never asked me, the girls' dreams becoming truer
sooner than my own. Don't you see? I didn't get,
get my chance. I was only an auntie, the favorite one,
a visitor to parenthood, which, like any,
is a kind of love I hadn't fully understood
meant part determination, part choicelessness;
and this, my one inheritance.
Jody A. Zorgdrager'swork has been published in Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Sycamore Review, Witness, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson, and has received an Individual Artist Grant from the Connecticut Art Commission.