Two Poems

Victoria Shippen

The Mainland

She was always here before now.
I’ve never had her not here at least.
I am confused without her. How could she be gone dead?
Is it the 49 years of always that makes this island of no motherness so cold and lonely?

I worry I’ll vomit from pain.
I wish I could.
My skin is hot and swollen.
I worry about its ends continuing to meet.

In my demented state, I like anorectics. They deny need.
I am sure we are kin. I feel less lonely.
Fleetingly I wish for membership:
skateguard collar bones and chicken wing shoulder blades.
Would I feel good then?

Is there hope? I cry so hard I get sore throats.
I cry wherever I am. I have lost all privacy.
I worry I’m insane; it is only me who howls,
a pup left too long, too late at night,
except I am 49, and half-person.

At 6 a.m. I have no gravelymothervoice to call,
I ache for her “Oh, there you are, dear”
me, a fundament of her universe,
a locating device I didn’t know I relied on.

All provinces, now met alone, seem demonically barren.
I am an estate of otherness, sure that pain and life are the same word.
It no longer matters that she was horribly cold, even malevolent.
My life’s internal horizon, was her, every day, not that I knew it.
I thought my soul inseparable from its points of arrival and departure

52 Trumbell Street

My father, Robert Shippen, born to replace
his dead older brother, couldn't.
Raised by cook and nurse,
common to his culture, he was put
to his mother for afternoon tea.

Washed at 3, in his navy suit, by 4,
nurse would carry him downstairs:
"Be still, Bobbie, be good.
Remember she doesn't like you
to look at her, and don't talk.
That's a good boy."

Nurse didn't stay in the room. She was Irish.
She'd stand in the doorway, watch for his errors.
Obediently, as much as he could do, he did.
He'd hold his chubby little hands behind him, stand
still, look at the wallpaper, count and sort, play picture.

Sometimes, in those twenty minutes, his mother talked:
the sky, weather, flowers, the rug, cook, father.
But the usual sound was the two gold coins of her bracelet jingling,
or the tea cup landing on its plate, or the soft rub
of her fingers on a coin.

Once she'd had him on her lap, lifted him
to sit on her thick red dress.
He had leaned into her, the smell of her.
She stroked the bracelet, showed him his initials
but two dates: b. 3/’18 d. 8/’18. “Your brother who died,” she said:
“wonderful Robert, who played on my lap for hours.”

This son smiled up at her. He could sit still like this forever.
He could feel her warmth, and it was coming for him.
He reached out and touched the tingling coins.
She put him off her lap and called for nurse.

Victoria Shippen lives in the Boston area and works as a child, adult, and family psychotherapist. She has studied poetry with Tom Lux, Denise Duhamel, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, and Joan Houlihan. Victoria's poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in Main Street Rag, Rise Up Review, Canary, and Constellations.