My mother and I do not have fashionable bodies;
Hers is a bit too strong, mine a bit too round,
Both of us too small.
She hated her body, subjecting it to diet after diet,
Cutting fat off the meat, skimming the cream off the milk
Until it was just water with a funny taste.
But the way she dressed — always elegant,
Always in tailored jackets, well-cut and flattering clothes,
More than mandatory refinement for her job.
Those strong bodies passed down from generation to generation
Could do farm work as well as any man’s,
Yet they were not fashionable;
And this upset my mother.
It used to upset me too.
I still wear an old shirt of hers she gave me when I was a child.
Good solid cotton from Egypt.
The shirt is more than twenty years old,
Still going strong, but worn so thin it’s become sheer.
(Did I insist or did she give it freely?
Her shirts I used to wear like dresses,
Floating in the things she wore,
The clothes that robed her,
As if they were an extension of her skin)
My mother and I, we strive for the light,
And to find our nourishment in
Whichever soil we find ourselves transplanted.
Our bodies were never much thanked.
We are good workhorses, true,
But in our family, we are workhorses anyway,
Not counting the hours, doing heavy lifting in farmwork
Or, now that we’ve made the move from country to city,
thinking and writing.
Our family has come into its own,
We have no more story of sacrifice,
Lives blighted and cut short too early,
Gifts buried to take care of family duties.
Underneath the finer clothes, our roots thrive
The same vitality
Of a sturdy plant blooming under the sun.