By NED BALBO
Because I still remember my mother’s scar,
six inches long, an inch wide, sunken gash
below her waist, forever unexplained.
Because the scar looked rushed, a knife’s quick work
closed with no time to lose. Because, watching
her dress, I felt both love and mystery,
questions evaded, others left unasked.
Because she’d only swim in one-piece suits
that hid the scar: still trim, unwearied, strong,
gliding our built-in pool, blue sky outrunning
water as she surged from end to end.
Because my father kept her secrets safe
(the ones she chose to tell him, anyway),
home truths I never knew, words newly tangled:
real, adoptive, mother, gratitude.
Because, in spring, she’d rake up clouds of thatch,
uprooting clumps of wayward dandelions,
pruning hydrangeas back into submission,
till the world obeyed. Because she said
that if her mother mentioned the arrest
(that error of her youth), she’d only spent
one night among those women who’d reached out
to rescue her from hunger and the cold.
Because her mother often locked her out.
Because she spoke of what a stranger did
and what she caught when she was just thirteen,
the girl who ended up in that old photo,
sepia-stained, confined with other daughters
judged to have transgressed. Because some girls,
we know from history not so very distant,
would end up giving birth in such surroundings,
under close watch and desperate to believe
nobody would force them to give up their child.
Because, back then, I might have been that child.
Because, pregnant or not, some found themselves
brought in to see the doctor called upon
to guarantee the crime that was their birthright
couldn’t be passed on. Because that scar
below my mother’s waist—that long-healed wound
that never healed, really—might have come
much later, after threats of violence, harm,
the hardships of desertion, poverty—
Some botched attempt to solve a problem quickly
risking more than she could dare admit
or stand to lose, the spots of blood that lingered
spreading fast to follow all her life.
For my adoptive mother, May 2022
Ned Balbo’s books include The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots (New Criterion Poetry Prize) and 3 Nights of the Perseids (Richard Wilbur Award), both published in 2019. Earlier books received the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, Poets’ Prize, and Ernest Sandeen Prize. New poems are forthcoming in Able Muse, Smartish Pace, Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere.