Monica Mankin


The first time I saw the picture of my mother
pregnant with me, she looked childish;
dishtowel over her right shoulder,
she smiles with unknowing brightness.

Her belly’s dropped low, firm, and three onions,
bushy papilla turned upward, sit round, still
on the table beside her, waiting to be peeled
and sliced into my father’s favorite stew.

I have worn this photo soft, somewhat colorless in places,
fingering minor details: the curve of my mother’s lips,
the onions not yet licking her eyes with their burn.

My father says, becoming a mother made her smile.
I know now, she smiled because the cancer had yet to break loose
within her; there was still collusion between malignancy
and her fleshy lymph and breast, onionskin and her skinless eyes.

I know now what was to come—her stomach sliced
and I’d be born. There would be routine,
hospital visits, two months of motherhood, the paper anniversary,
then a spongy lump, an unscheduled trip to the hospital.

Ahead lay the diagnosis, biopsy, radiation, tick
of fingers tapping morphine, prick and bleed of needles,
hairlessness, shrinking skin and moisture,
the ghostly bulge of her blue bones, until finally
the intercourse between the scalpel and white pap of her breast.

Those onions would bite the empty air and my father’s eyes
as he watched her lips thin, turn white.
She would become frantic, fight to stay wife and mother—
both of us helpless as infants. She would disappear
beneath weight loss and lilies, leaving me my father’s memories.

And those onions, benign beside her, would be sliced through
their heartless cores. And I, growing old inside her womb,
would learn—beginning with her body—to root the earth
for onions, to loosen the dirt from their papery blouses
and suck clean their blistering milk.


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