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By Carmen Gordon-Rein
Genre: Poetry Level: High School 10-12
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

Carmen Gordon-Rein

I wore a tie-dyed shirt and

my hair in two pigtails. For some reason,

in my mind, my eyes are light blue.

I have never believed I look

as much like my mother as I do in that

snapshot of memory.


My mother ran her big hands

through the low bush blueberries that clung

to the quilted surface of a familiar mountain.

My memory

is clumsy.

Mom told me that looking at pictures

of events helps to preserve memories,

but how do I know whether I remember the real mountain,

or just a 2D abstraction

of it? I picked the berries individually,

with simple-minded focus and

chubby, stained fingers.

I loved my mother more then

than I do now.

At the end of an unspecific day in winter,

I kicked the front door of my middle school open and

breathed a cloud of clean smoke

into the frigid parking lot air. I watched

the cars making their slow way past the front of the school

before escaping

like bandits

with their precious cargo.

My father would have been late,

but mom was waiting, idling.

Various bags weighed down all of my limbs and I

used my foot to tap on the shiny red door so she would open it

for me.

My brother used to say that

his one regret in life was not being born

with opposable toes.

Mom was irritable, her eyes the kind of grey you get

when the long blade

of a sharp knife

reflects a disappointed sky. They bore

under my skin and grated against my nerves.

We fought about something stupid and

went to bed angry.

I loved my mother less, then.

She sent me a long text

to apologize, the same way I used to slip notes

under her door when our rooms were next to one another.

I opened the electronic message

but never responded to it.

I was broken once, in March, and mom drove me

to physical therapy,

and three feet before the parking lot,

clear, thin tears leaked

from her crystalline eyes.

Almost twenty years ago, she moved

to Alaska with Dad, far away from

her home with

the red maple leaves and the

wrong ocean.

Her mother never let her forget that distance,

and it hurt so much to see

her cry and

be helpless.

She left to get coffee and I

could not stop picturing her wet cheeks,

rivulets of tears carving out the decades of

joy and pain and insomnia

scored into her skin.

Mom does not love Alaska,

not like my father and brother and I do,

but she loves us all

so much.

I slowly healed myself, building

paper-thin layers of correction over my weak and torn

body and thought that maybe

I look more like my mother inside

than I let myself know.

Everything is inherently twisted and complicated

in its own unique pattern,

identical to everything else

only in its singular contortion.

I grasp at simpler strands

like flyaway hairs, like the palm tree pigtails

I used to gather and tease my thin hair into,

but my mother

refuses to be

pinned down.

In the silence between us

on the car ride home, I wonder

about the depths and craters

of her insides and mine.

My body aches, her soul cries out,

and there it is,

hanging in the air,

the silver-blue whisper of a sentiment,

that the closest you can get

to knowing somebody is understanding

that you will never comprehend them


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