This week we feature a new poem by Stephanie Rogers. Rogers grew up in Middletown, Ohio and now lives in New York City. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Ploughshares, New Ohio Review, Cincinnati Review, Southern Review, Pleiades, and Third Coast, as well as the Best New Poets anthology. Her first collection of poems, Plucking the Stinger, is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books.
This poem came out of a real dream I had about sifting through a garden in the rain. It’s a surprising poem to me in a lot of ways because it isn’t true: I didn’t set out to write a poem about the death of someone’s mother—the title came much later than the poem itself. But the more I read it and tinkered with it, the more I realized it was a poem about motherhood and childhood. I hadn’t yet lost my father when I wrote this poem, but it comes from a place of grief, regardless.
After Your Mother’s Death
During the nightmares where I dug up the garden, when my hands groped
roots, the tangled vines clutching my wrist—I was looking for you—
all that time I never thought to check the backyard tree, the one
lightning struck when you were a boy, sending you back for three nights
to your mother’s bed, where you collapsed against that soft body
you’d come from once, back when you were still learning to escape, before
you got hold of the TV, the books, then later, the key to the liquor cabinet,
where your mother hid the prescription pills you’d steal for me.
Then, that dream again, night, and rain of course, and waiting, this time,
with roots wrapped around me for you to climb down. But I got bored
with waiting and scaled the tree, my arms muscled in the storm light,
my legs flexing to each syllable of your repeated name, branches thudding
the ground as I climbed higher to reach you, my toes scraping, fingers
digging into the tree bark—don’t you see I wanted to hold on?
And I found you there, rain-soaked in your childhood pajamas, the Earth
turning us over in its mouth like a mother in the wild, devouring her young.