And we got on quite well, really, for the vision I gave my father of my life was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe. For I am—or I was—one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through.

A Commonplace Book

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room, 1956

Prayer for Us Daughters

Lupercalia, Poetry

Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil. Lone shadows skitter across the wall between bookcases and all the things that should have been thrown out, including you; the detritus of corners and cobwebs, boxes piled high with canned food, laundry, years of newspapers and unpaid bills.

Begin when our mothers call us daughters the devil as you evade sharp corners and the door that opens and closes; the border between madness and our small, fractured sanctuaries. Belong to the small bed, the belongings scattered around the small bed, the junk we will denounce when we want to grow up like desperate things, when we say we will never be like our mothers.

Begin when every gift, every meal, every scrap of clothing exists in their individual moments as the opposite of a slap in the face. Take the gifts with a smile and the moment her back is turned, run like hell. Answer the phone with an offering of innocence, eyes down. Maybe she won’t bite. Sleep as if nothing is wrong, sleep as if you are in the safest place in the world and then try to remember how to breathe.

Make believe, when our mothers call us daughters the devil, eventually rain will fall from the mouth of the full moon into the eyelets of our bedroom windows and fill the cloven prism.