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A Valentine For My Mother by Wren Donovan

On a screen-porch in Baton Rouge, real low to the ground

my mother’s hands rattle the old metal peeler birthing naked potatoes

pulling down long skinny strips that curl like old paper and stick like wet leaves

and smell just like dirt. We swim in sweaty Lou’siana air and click and clatter of bugs

and kids hollering somewhere and faraway lawn mowers. My little brother is there.

We’re carving raw potatoes into art stamps, a vintage project for small hands, excavating

raw white flesh from each newly opened slick face, slippery blinking round and blank.

I sculpt the first letter of my name with the small knife, sneak a piece of crunch into my mouth.

My kindergarten fingers cut around a three-pointed tulip then two-pointed cat head,

I attempt a smiling sun with crown of spikes and then a Valentine heart for Mama

who has covered the wooden table in newspaper set out pools of paint in little glass jars

and introduced this magic with potatoes, to while away some summer time

amuse herself distract her kids or vicy-versy on this long-dead afternoon that only I remember.

Dip and press dip and press dip and press Yellow red and blue and green and black.

Cat heads tulips overlapping shapes and “alphabits,” a red heart here and there.

Mama’s hands halve and peel, leave just enough rough skin for me to hold

these Earth-apples Irish roots crunchy musty lumpy tubers with dry eyes.

Mama’s same hands rest now under ant-infested clay in a half-dead town where

she was born and now she lies there, fingers folded, finger-bones against a blue dress

chosen by strangers and unseen by us. She liked blue, we told them. Coffin closed.

Screen door slams wood-smack in my faulty memory and bright paint shudders in little jars.

Louisiana fire ants tunnel future mudslides sinkholes earthquakes wet dirt artifacts.

We still live so low to the damp ground, with no foundation or crawl space to speak of.

Previously published PRINT ONLY in Tattie Zine Issue #2, November 2021

Wren Donovan’s poetry appears or is upcoming in Poetry South, Emerge, Harpy Hybrid Review, Yellow Arrow, Moist Poetry, and elsewhere in print and online. She studied folklore, anthropology, literature, and creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill and University of Southern Mississippi. Wren also reads Tarot, practices dance meditation, and talks to cats. She lives in Tennessee.


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