An Editor Advised Me to Stop Writing Mother Bird Poems

by Jennifer Givhan

The kitchen of my past smells of carne adovada
and green chiles blackened on the comal.
These days, I don’t even like to boil eggs for fear
I’ll overcook them—the whites will ooze
through cracked shells streaming into grungy
water I’ve forgotten to salt. My family could
eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner
every night without complaint.

I sit down to write and wonder what’s the point?
No matter how many beautiful stories
I create, some man whose uncle raped his mother
will snatch a young boy from the sidewalk
while he walks home, his mama waiting
two blocks away for his cowboy hat
to turn the corner. But the hat
never comes, and the boy

she nursed and sang to—Twinkle Star
over and over, pouring bathwater to soothe
his fear of No More Tears suds
because even those burn—that boy
who learned to read by memorizing
all the books at bedtime but never
would eat anything green not
smothered in barbecue sauce. Gone.

They’ll find his body, sure.
The mother will mourn. Many of us will vow
never to let our children walk alone.
I will walk with my children
until they’re eighty. But then my boy will run
ahead in the mall, and I’ll lose him
for a split second. A split second.
It won’t matter how many poems

I’ve written or dinners I’ve cooked or baths
I’ve given. Except that it will.
As the peanut butter matters. The salt in the water.
The boy on the street, his too-large cowboy boots
forever walking home toward his mama.
His mama, forever on the porch,
searching the skyline for a hat.

Rattle #37

Jennifer Givhan's picture

Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet. Her work has appeared in over seventy literary journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Collagist, cream city review, and The Columbia Review. She has also won a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

Last updated December 24, 2014