She told me
over takeout Japanese dinner
(negimaki and zaru soba
not as good as hers)
that I was not her first.
Two years before me
was a baby boy
but I suppose not a baby
because he grew and grew
and the hole in his head
where the brain was supposed to go
grew and grew too
leaving a great gaping chasm
in the pallid skeleton
on x-rays you could see straight
through to the other side of
my mother’s stomach
then the white coats droned
mrrrhmph folic acid
so she went to the clinic
sat at a table of
women, big tiny black brown white curvy
lying standing crying reading trashy magazines
but as she rest her head
on cold plastic
hands protectively draped around her
belly, warm belly
she knew none of the other women’s babies
had scooped out brains, emptiness
the sludge had dribbled away
When Barack Hussein Obama II was reelected
I cried and cried and cried
and pressed my face to every salty cheek in the room
but not my parents’. I only
saw them a day later, grayer but smiling.
Instead I watched
strangers on television parade the range
of emotions. I couldn’t
tell if they were genuine or just
happy to be on TV.
The steps to recruiting a volunteer are:
one, share your personal story
two, listen to theirs
three, ask for help.
I spent hours on my story
I have gay friends
my parents are freelancers
my ex-best friend was raped
but these weren’t mine to tell,
My mom fumed.
How can you not know?
Mom, it’s not my fault you never told me
I didn’t have to steal.
My mom was also raised an only child
except for the tombstone she’d visited since birth
Baby Ido lies here,
and the half-brother
she found out about at forty-four,
divulged by Auntie Harue because
her own mother had already taken off alone.
I think that’s the most pitiful thing,
to die and not only rob loved ones of life
but of who you are, of memory and the belief,
however fleeting, that you were ever truly seen.
I wonder if
when her mother watered
the stillborn baby’s graveside snowdrops
she was mourning the loss of
one boy, two boys, freedom.
My mom keeps the papers hidden
I tell her it’s easy to look people up today
she tells me she doesn’t know yet if she wants to find him
and I respect that so
I leave Jimmy
the half-Japanese half-American soldier ex-boy
raised by missionaries missing mother and father
far down in the folds of my brain–
bubble gum wad miracle.
I think adulthood is this
the moment where the parents are no longer
parents, perfect and untouchable,
all-knowing, all-watching, always right
then suddenly you’re one of them,
and soon you’re moving out.
The jokes about turning your room
into a recording studio aren’t actually jokes,
you realize it as you’re carving pumpkins
but next year there won’t be pumpkins
or parents with all the right knives to stab
pierce the skin and dig around
searching for something more than
pulpy flesh and seeds.
Then you look down
see yourself scooping brains and you’re sick
step back, you’re talking to your mom,
you count on fingers toes teeth bones
how many more times you’ll have these talks
and all you want is to hide under her covers again
hiding so she’ll think “disappeared!”
when she comes home,
even though she always finds you in the end.
Under the wooly blankets you
can’t see your mother
1993, fragile and thin
pooled skin, the fourteen-week fetus
already moved out and her TV is on to bring
motion to stale air.
There’s a pro-life protester
on screen, typical bullshit
and his hand, veiny and pale
reaches slowly behind bony ribs
pulls out reflective glass
sparkly and pretty-like in sun
my mom leans in, curious
and falls flails
oh God, oh Jesus
it’s a fourteen-week fetus in a jar
taken from a New York City abortion clinic
a person is a person no matter how small
there are no unwanted children only unwilling mothers
but she’s a puddle before she can see
whether the fetus had a chasm in place of a face.
I set the innards respectfully aside
and keep carving my pumpkin
to make it the greatest fucking pumpkin
my mom will ever see.
Emma Smith, Age 18, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key