BY RUBY ROBINSON
I can’t go up because I don’t know how.
Nobody has shown me.
Nobody has shown me.
So many names, my mother, I’m never sure
what to call you. So many names for all your predators
and crushes and suitors. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’m here and I’m sorry I’m not here.
Would you have made it on your own
without the comorbid condition of motherhood
and the slowness and consistency of time?
I’m sorry for the slowness and consistency of time;
years like zombies dawdling toward a cliff edge
holding back the child’s writhing body, itching to grow, packed
around the same mind I have now.
I’m sorry the concept of promise outgrew the concept of child
and that systemic contradiction and wizardry left only a dim sense
of suspicion; a crescendoing breeze, accumulating clouds
amidst bewildering dichotomies.
I’m sorry for resembling your relatives and captors and the man
who penetrated you, who’s still there, communicating boldly
via intersections of others’ thought waves and memories,
blatant into the long nights, haunting,
for my inferiority in the face of nuclear family culture,
feeding on detritus of white goods, leisure sports, laminate ﬂoors,
a real home and fake recycling,
for creeping by night into a tight void, blinds down, brain blown
glass-thin, electric impulses and bloated thoughts bolted in.
For this life being the only one my quiet mind knows,
its many versions and phases, I’m sorry. I wasn’t your daughter
— or anyone — when you were the blue-water navy,
or the beheaded, or the baby boy. Or was I?
I’m sorry I was not yet born and could not yet hear you
when you were over there, listening carefully
for the rain and small movements of animals, for sounds
of life, through a green, ﬁve-ﬁngered haze.
I’m sorry I consider sentiment, fact; authenticity, originality,
when they are irrelevant. So many choices
in supermarkets, the natural habitat of panic attacks,
it’s enough to make anyone sorry and I am.
I’m sorry it’s taking over half a century to link your purple-patched
brain scan to the basic biology of stress. The piano thunders on,
sustain pedal wired to the facial muscles of all your neglecters,
aching like hell behind their stamina and machinery.
I’m sorry I had, logically, to think of my own self ﬁrst / simultaneously,
navigating through the ﬁre and acid of Trust and her sycophant
Love before returning. All the powerful were women; the power
of penises and facial hair originated there, cajoled by matriarchs.
As if skin and breath were insigniﬁcant!
I’m so sorry.
Where are you now, to take into my arms and resuscitate?
Is it too late, given you’re ﬁfty and no longer a child?
It’s always mothers and mind control which is why
I thank you for breaking the cycle, withstanding the enormity
of generations, magnetic as water,
to let us go. You weren’t to know
about other outrageous families and sadistic counterparts.
A nugget of my limbic system remembered choosing my own
lemon-yellow baby clothes so thank you.
I squeezed that into the thumb-sized space
in the palm of my hand knowing all along they were wrong
and imploding with it.
I’m sorry I wept in the shower for your canceled wedding,
letting the violet dress down the plughole, unsure
what it all meant except things staying the same, future
aggravating my brain, a baby brother gone again.
I’m sorry you were out there, alone, deﬁned by the worst
of others and deﬁned by your children’s prisms of hope
and survival mechanisms. In one version, you did marry and lived
in a house with green walls and extravagant furniture.
I’m sorry that consensus reality had you set ﬁre to your bed
as you lay in it; arrested, put in a cell, let off the next day
because the lawyer believed it was a genuine attempt
and convinced the police.
I’m sorry you’ve had to withstand such torrents
of knowledgeless advice and legal toxiﬁcation,
clinging to reality by a sinew of tooth, remembering yourself,
through the rough and the smooth.
I’m sorry I was absent, memorizing books of the Bible
for a bar of Dairy Milk, owning up to things
I’d never done, getting conﬁrmed as an antidote
to the evil core of me.
I’m sorry it was exotic to think of kids like me
ending up in prison, coincidentally, inevitably
or prevented (which is the same), salvaged, peristalsized
through society, brain safely contained,
doused daily in cold water or electricity
or disgrace, temptations kept consistently far enough away
as to appear illusory
like you, my brave mother, fantastic prodigy
in ﬂowing white caftan, knotted long brown hair, a beautiful gaze
of solemnity, rare stone, emotionless (deﬁned by others).
I’m sorry I was ill-prepared for your soiled mattress
and comatose body, under a wave of advocaat
and transistor radios oozing with cheap Scotch. Even I
developed feelings for them amidst adults acting like it’s okay
to leave you this way, the blue bottle ﬂies in on it,
inﬂated with dog shit and red hot egos, resting on your cheek,
your lip, too cunning to get rid of.
I’m sorry that laughing off a difficult childhood
didn’t make it never happen. Even a basic calculator
recognizes an inﬁnite loop as a malfunction; don’t they see cutting
off my privates every night needs additional information?
I’m sorry I talked you out of wounding yourself
although I know it feels hopeful and lets in sunlight and air
through an open door. I’m sorry I can’t help you go up.
I, also, don’t know how.
I’m sorry I prioritize the stimulation of adrenalin and opioids
in my own axis before I come to you. Thank you
for believing I love you even though you know
I don’t know love or trust it.
I dreamed a baby died from kidney failure. The worst part?
Not knowing distress from relief in the face of the mother,
like a child in an experiment. What does this mean?
My man fearing a moment of madness. Not locking the
knives away but keeping a steady eye on them, paying attention
to the moon and turning moods. He underestimates me;
I’m my own doppelgänger. Here I am, locked to him, discussing
sex positions and holiday destinations. Here I am
courting solitude in the doorway, a pair of eyes and a chest cavity
thrumming on the dark boundary between survival and self-control.
While there are no babies, I carry on. I am testament to the problem
of the baby. Look at me — ﬂaunting my own survival. Who am I?
Except the parasite that accidentally caught on
to your womb wall as you lay stoned on a fur-lined coat
in a hallway in Moss Side? Happy accident, accidentally on purpose.
Close the piano lid. Empty a drawer. Things happen.
I’m sorry for absences, holidaying in France, studying guilt,
time-traveling the pain barrier, intent on nerve endings
and their connections to various biological systems.
Learning to accept and relinquish responsibility appropriately.
Throwing back the hot stone in a horizontal line.
Thank you to the policeman who took all the men whose safety
you feared for to the pub so you could come home
for dinner, monologue, nail varnish remover, a set
of impartial weighing scales and cheap French wine.
I’m sorry about the home, the wine, the monologue resonating
against the plastic mug others might keep for you, fussing
over makeup-smeared walls, upholstery and understatements.
I’m a bit sad we can’t see Al. He comes on the radio sometimes.
I’m sorry I’m not bringing you home, ﬁnally, to thrive and repair.
I wanted to stay, singing Luther Vandross on the walkway
outside at 6 a.m., fetching toast from the neighbor. I was hoping
for perfection, believing in anything, all those years.
Is it too ambitious to hope? I’m sentimentally sorry
despite a genuine fear of sentimentality and pseudo-unhappiness,
struggling under the weight of an A1 poster on complex trauma
and a pair of Sennheiser headphones to lock me in.
Think of what it is when God himself puts his arms around you
and says “welcome home.” There’s nothing mysterious
about my thoughts or affect, nor yours, nor anyone’s, biologically
generated by the relationships we hide our consciousness from.
Oh unhappiness and inﬁdelity! Disguised in metaphor
you’re nothing but the deep yearning of an infant for its mother
and the furiousness. Making this connection is like remembering
being born, which is like folding time, which is no one to blame and
all the world to blame.
Thank you for picking up the handless, footless doll
in the park, saving him from a dog or fox or thoughtless children,
keeping him to your breast on the tram, the bus, in pubs
and not noticing the scathing looks.
I learnt to trust without you, leaving my thoughts
outside for ﬁve minutes and trusting the neighbor’s cat
not to urinate on them.
I’m sorry my stand-in mother was an evil replica, machine-like
yet unpredictable. We tried to calculate an algorithm for her
mood, as you would’ve done, and in 14 years never cracked it.
She remained seated when I left for the last time.
You weren’t to know
and they wouldn’t have believed you anyway.
We learn to accept the clouds for what they are
and wait, patiently.
Source: Poetry (December 2015)