where I went while you were dying
this poem is (about when your mother
collapses in front of you)
the emergency plan you don’t have when the emergency
not knowing your mother’s or sister’s or sister’s
is (about your mother
telling you she is dying and then ____________)
in lieu of health insurance.
anxiety over social worker called
height weight charts. or
is (what your mother’s
face looked like without oxygen)
the story of your mother saving your newborn life. or
waiting to find out if you’ve returned the favor.
this poem (is about prying your
mother’s teeth apart)
wonders whether you did all you could to return the favor.
says it will let you know. whether you did.
this poem is (this is not a poem. about her saying
she was dying)
hope that grinds you down.
neither here nor there.
cannot remain present.
not a gift.
will not firm no or yes.
passes hours without blinking its eyes.
without waking up.
does not know how to leave.
a horrible bedside manner.
cold hands and bad breath.
this poem is (this is not a poem. about her pitching into your arms and _________)
the stuff your mother is made of.
nothing you recognize.
what’s under skin deep.
an octopus escapes the fishing net: in which my daughter becomes cephalopod
in this life, where you must be both
predator and delicacy, rend
for yourself the tenderest bits.
enter a world, daughter
where you may drink brine and not be
lose remorse in the hunt for that which feeds
you. be sure
there are eight passions
for each arm’s embrace,
in case your dreams are injured
or cut short.
by all means, keep yourself
whole, even as you adapt with grace,
honey love. my
pure musculature and give;
infinite flex and reshaping, do not
be confined to any that would contain you.
be gentle relentless
manipulation; hang on, love,
or disappear in the confusion of your melanin
clouding the display; how they love
to watch you squirm and ooze;
be not object
entertainment, remember how
to pry open exits remember
learn both lurk and listen;
eyes open to color of danger
do not forget that tucked up
in the unfurling of your
pretty petticoat of a body:
you are thought
and plot. beak
and brain. predator
and delicacy. Feed.
your nephew gives your daughter a toy gun for her birthday
and you imagine retaliation
you imagine riddled;
you gift her a story of dead brown skin
and the child who once inhabited it:
your nephew, pale and safe,
is worried; says the story
of the dead brown thing is scary
how the cop just ________
how the kid just ________.
your daughter agrees, refuses to play
even inside, even where she is _____.
you realize maturation means presents
come with an edge, sharp or
bitter. she’s big now. it’s time to watch
out for giggles ridden with gunshots.
An award-winning writer and performer, Amber Flame is also a singer for multiple musical projects. Flame’s original work is published and recorded in many diverse arenas, including Def Jam Poetry, Winter Tangerine, The Dialogist, Split This Rock, Jack Straw, Black Heart Magazine, and forthcoming from Sundress Publications, Redivider and more. Her one-woman play, Hands Above the Covers: Hairy Palms & Other Nightmares of a Church Kid, was mounted under the auspices of a CityArtist grant through the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Since moving to the Bay Area, Flame works as a teaching artist and runs the Oakland Slam as slammaster. while performing daily feats of Black girl magic. She performs regularly on musical, literary, and cabaret stages, and works as an activist and organizer for a diverse number of queer and POC communities. Amber Flame is one magic trick away from growing her unicorn horn.