Good Mother

  Praise the woman who took me in her arms &
  wouldn’t let go of me. We sank to the floor
  in the middle of the aisle in Rite Aid.
  It was a late morning & I walked slowly,
  furious that spring could still be so wonderful.
  Magnolia tempted me to forget about my mother
  for a few minutes. I stared at a Brooklyn blue sky
  through branches clasping pear blossoms.
  The limbs shook in sunlight. My eyes adjusted
  when I went into the pharmacy & realized
  everywhere I looked the world announced
  it would soon be Mother’s Day. Something
  ripped itself out of me. A howl so wide
  I thought I would burst. The woman near the counter
  understood right away the way my mother
  once understood I had been born in a specific sadness.
  The woman did not say she was a mother but I knew it.
  She put her arms around me & waved away the cashiers,
  the security guard who repeated
Ma’am, Ma’am?
  A stranger rocked me in her arms, so much kindness
  as we fell over & crashed against a row of votive candles.
  She didn’t say it would be okay. She didn’t ask me
  what was wrong. But her arms put me in a vicious prayer.
  I almost bit her, almost pushed her away.
  We held on. We held on & praised the nameless thing
  that makes us what we think we aren’t strong enough
  to know. She knew. She didn’t let go of me.
  Praise the woman who didn’t wipe my snot from her shirt,
  my tears from her collarbone, who did not tell me to
  pull myself together while everything inside me dropped.
  Crushed bones. Blossoms pushing through my mouth –
  a word:
Mom Mom Mom. This broken birdsong of mine
  with no bird, no wing, no way to fly back through time.
  Praise the woman who did not leave me
  like something suddenly dead on the sidewalk
  with a breeze blowing over its face.
  Praise the woman who smelled like fabric softener
  & coffee & the good things I must believe I am too.
  Praise the mothers who walk slowly through the world,
  bringing children into themselves, burying children sometimes
  before themselves, & who defend something harder
  than innocent. Praise the guts & grace of mothers.
  Praise their exhaustion & their good work. Praise their wit,
  their wonderful ways of listening to the world fall
  asleep against its clean pillow. For the woman
  who knelt with me in an ugly heap in the middle of
  Rite Aid on an unbearable spring day,
  who helped me buy a Mother’s Day card
  for my dead mother, who knew better than to say
  I’d be just fine, for you I lift my arms each spring
  & wish you a kindness so fantastic I sometimes feel
  I’m in midair, the shadow of my wings clapping in joy
  above your children who must love you.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet
and visual artist. Her most recent
collection is
Seeing the Body (W.W.
Norton, 2020). She is the recipient
of fellowships including Robert
Rauschenberg Foundation, Cave
Canem, Kimbilio, and Yaddo. Her
visual art and literary work has
appeared in
The New Yorker, The Paris
Review, Tin House
, and many others.
She lives in New York City.

--"Good Mother" first appeared in Tin House