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Marge Piercy - My Mother's Body


The dark socket of the year 
the pit, the cave where the sun lies down 
and threatens never to rise, 
when despair descends softly as the snow 
covering all paths and choking roads: 

then hawkfaced pain seized you 
threw you so you fell with a sharp 
cry, a knife tearing a bolt of silk. 
My father heard the crash but paid 
no mind, napping after lunch 

yet fifteen hundred miles north 
I heard and dropped a dish. 
Your pain sunk talons in my skull 
and crouched there cawing, heavy 
as a great vessel filled with water, 

oil or blood, till suddenly next day 
the weight lifted and I knew your mind 
had guttered out like the Chanukah 
candles that burn so fast, weeping 
veils of wax down the chanukiya. 

Those candles were laid out, 
friends invited, ingredients bought 
for latkes and apple pancakes, 
that holiday for liberation 
and the winter solstice 

when tops turn like little planets. 
Shall you have all or nothing 
take half or pass by untouched? 
Nothing you got, Nun said the dreydl
as the room stopped spinning. 

The angel folded you up like laundry 
your body thin as an empty dress. 
Your clothes were curtains 
hanging on the window of what had 
been your flesh and now was glass. 

Outside in Florida shopping plazas 
loudspeakers blared Christmas carols 
and palm trees were decked with blinking 
lights. Except by the tourist 
hotels, the beaches were empty. 

Pelicans with pregnant pouches 
flapped overhead like pterodactyls. 
In my mind I felt you die. 
First the pain lifted and then 
you flickered and went out. 


I walk through the rooms of memory. 
Sometimes everything is shrouded in dropcloths, 
every chair ghostly and muted. 

Other times memory lights up from within 
bustling scenes acted just the other side 
of a scrim through which surely I could reach 

my fingers tearing at the flimsy curtain 
of time which is and isn't and will be 
the stuff of which we're made and unmade. 

In sleep the other night I met you, seventeen 
your first nasty marriage just annulled, 
thin from your abortion, clutching a book 

against your cheek and trying to look 
older, trying to took middle class, 
trying for a job at Wanamaker's, 

dressing for parties in cast off 
stage costumes of your sisters. Your eyes 
were hazy with dreams. You did not 

notice me waving as you wandered 
past and I saw your slip was showing. 
You stood still while I fixed your clothes, 

as if I were your mother. Remember me 
combing your springy black hair, ringlets 
that seemed metallic, glittering; 

remember me dressing you, my seventy year 
old mother who was my last dollbaby, 
giving you too late what your youth had wanted. 


What is this mask of skin we wear, 
what is this dress of flesh, 
this coat of few colors and little hair? 

This voluptuous seething heap of desires 
and fears, squeaking mice turned up 
in a steaming haystack with their babies? 

This coat has been handed down, an heirloom 
this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.

This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks 
they provided cushioning for my grandmother 
Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me 

and we all sat on them in turn, those major 
muscles on which we walk and walk and walk 
over the earth in search of peace and plenty. 

My mother is my mirror and I am hers. 
What do we see? Our face grown young again, 
our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant. 

Our arms quivering with fat, eyes 
set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy, 
our belly seamed with childbearing, 

Give me your dress that I might try it on. 
Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat. 
I will not fit you mother. 

I will not be the bride you can dress, 
the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew, 
a dog's leather bone to sharpen your teeth. 

You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound. 
Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks 
barbed and drawing blood with their caress. 

My twin, my sister, my lost love, 
I carry you in me like an embryo 
as once you carried me. 


What is it we turn from, what is it we fear? 
Did I truly think you could put me back inside? 
Did I think I would fall into you as into a molten 
furnace and be recast, that I would become you? 

What did you fear in me, the child who wore 
your hair, the woman who let that black hair 
grow long as a banner of darkness, when you
a proper flapper wore yours cropped?

You pushed and you pulled on my rubbery
flesh, you kneaded me like a ball of dough. 
Rise, rise, and then you pounded me flat. 
Secretly the bones formed in the bread.

I became willful, private as a cat. 
You never knew what alleys I had wandered. 
You called me bad and I posed like a gutter 
queen in a dress sewn of knives. 

All I feared was being stuck in a box 
with a lid. A good woman appeared to me 
indistinguishable from a dead one 
except that she worked all the time. 

Your payday never came. Your dreams ran 
with bright colors like Mexican cottons 
that bled onto the drab sheets of the day 
and would not bleach with scrubbing. 

My dear, what you said was one thing 
but what you sang was another, sweetly 
subversive and dark as blackberries 
and I became the daughter of your dream. 

This body is your body, ashes now 
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts, 
my throat, my thighs. You run in me 
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood, 

you sing in my mind like wine. What you 
did not dare in your life you dare in mine. 

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Added: Apr 12 2005 | Viewed: 188 times | Comments and analysis of My Mother's Body by Marge Piercy Comments (1)

My Mother's Body - Comments and Information

Poet: Marge Piercy
Poem: My Mother's Body
Poem of the Day: Jun 26 2015

Comment 1 of 1, added on April 7th, 2006 at 8:03 PM.

I am a huge Marge Piercy fan. This poem is filled with the complexity of the mother/daughter relationship. I love the individual 3 poems within the poem and the last stanza is a perfect summation of struggle and peace within a storm:

"This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs. You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,

you sing in my mind like wine. What you
did not dare in your life you dare in mine."

The line you sing in my mind like wine is so deafening to me it makes the entire poem clear. I hope everyone who reads this takes away as much as I did. -Lis

Lisa Albright Ratnavira from United States

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