Telling my Mother (at nineteen) by Ally Malinenko


We have all stood on this edge
and rowed out into dangerous waters.
First I promised myself and broke it,
then I promised my sister
and then there was no going back on it.

I stood in my room, having just returned from college,
awkward and limbless like an astronaut adjusting to gravity,

and she stood in the doorway,
her brow wrinkled in confusion
and frustration and anger, yes, anger too.

For a moment I saw myself as she saw me,
not the way I always see me,
distorted and warped,

but young, with unlined skin
and opportunities she never had,
I realized suddenly she wanted to grab me and shake me,
wake me from my own self destruction.

Scream, ‘Waste’, loud enough into my ear that not
only did my brain but maybe also my heart and my soul
buried deep in my swollen muscle of my trachea would hear it.

But she didn’t.
I told her, and she sighed deep and lost and
then for a moment inside, I was the mother,
asking Why? Why?
and she was the child, shrugging.

You will be okay, she said. You will get better.
It was not a question.

This is the way it happened. This was what we were waiting for.
Afterwards there was no going back to what once was.

4 Responses to “Telling my Mother (at nineteen) by Ally Malinenko”

  1. I’ve read this over three times and I feel really stupid, but I still just don’t get it. Maybe it’s the oddly mixed imagery … standing on an edge and rowing, an inexplicably limbless astronaut … but it’s probably just me. The only thing I can think of that would be of such importance to tell her mother would be that she is pregnant, but why doesn’t the poem just come out and say it? I’m lost.

  2. Your poem reaches the depth of a mother’s response to her child in distress. For the mother, the why may be unspoken but is there. What matters to the mother is being there to help make things better for her child.

  3. Harry – good guess. But it’s not that pregnancy.
    Thanks to both you and Rosaliene for reading.

  4. This is so powerful! Michael Grover suggested I read your work and wow! He was right! Such resonance and love oozing out of this poem!

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