My Poor Mother

She told me heavy truths when I was just a child.

"I was young.  I didn't even know I was going to get pregnant."

"He was so handsome."

"He stole a car.  He was a gambler."

"My mother," she said, "hit me in the head with an iron frying pan,

        but I still loved her."

Years later, Aunt Grace said of Grandma, "She was high strung."

My poor mother said, "I was four years old, and I found pans

of tomato paste on the floor in a room, and I started to dance

in them with my bare feet."

This is how we used to make wine.

"She punched me in the head."

But the part that my poor mother left out and that I did not

hear until she was 78 years old was that she was knocked

unconscious by her mother's punch to her head.

She was not moving.  She was taken to the hospital,

this four-year-old girl with tomato paste between her toes.

She did not die, not on the outside.

Much later I became a social worker, a soldier fighting poverty.

I learned that among the poor and the violent criminals

(books are written about it) there is an

especially high record of childhood head trauma.

So the next time you are on a tear about the poor,

enraged and attacking them for being lazy and stupid

and a burden on society, think about your childhood,

        and their childhood.

It is wise that they are called the "downtrodden,"

because trodden down is what they are, under our feet,   

like tomato paste.

We are stepping on their misfortune, standing on their

weak and vulnerable infant bodies.

We are not extending a helping hand to lift them up,

to welcome them into a generous heart.

We walk on them, hold them down

while they mop the floors, serve the food, and wash

the grime and shit away from our lucky lives.

My mom said, "He was a gambler," with the

crucifix hanging from the chain around her neck.

"His mother is in an insane asylum."

"She saw another son get killed by a piece of farm machinery."

He must have seen it too, my father, or heard about it, knew it.

His brother, perhaps beloved brother, ground like hamburger

to die in a field, human garbage under a joyful summer sun.

My father's mother died in her insane asylum.

Asylum: refuge, shelter, sanctuary.

As we judge we are judged.

I never met a man who was not a burden to society.

        What makes you so special?

What makes you worthy of the space you fill,

all that you've consumed, the troubles you've caused?

What is broken in your body, your life, your mind,

        your heart?

She told me heavy truths when I was just a child.


        John Manimas Medeiros, August, 2023

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