“Momma Who?” by Emma Cape
how old were you
your momma decided
you finally deserved her company?
don’t ask her if you had chicken pox
when you were three.
she ain’t gonna know!
took your first steps
when you were five,
in her world.
she ain’t never gonna say it though
she never says anything
she’ll act like you don’t ‘member
that you thought daddy’s momma was yours too.
your first memory of momma:
the fear that comes with being sacrificed to a stranger—
a small child’s squeal
as if she’s the piglet bein’ taken
to the slaughterhouse
inside and out.
in part from bein’ a kid
and in part from the words
momma lets out
liquor licks the love outta her
like you suck the sour sugar off candies.
the elephant in the room
ain’t just you
and you act
too much like your daddy.
your name don’t roll off her tongue
like her other daughter’s does.
it always sounds like it’s stuck on somethin’
like that one popcorn kernel caught in the back of your damn teeth that never seems to let you alone no matter how hard you try to get rid of the dang thing?
“Emma” really does it to ‘er!
a nagging reminder
that she was there to name you,
but by no choice of her own
and she ain’t even wanna do that.
so thanks, daddy, for havin’ good taste!
don’t ask her where she was those early years.
like one of them birds—
travellin’ with the seasons.
‘cept she stayed away
for way too long.
my father in his reclining chair a slow death bearing witness was
my nightly ritual he doesn’t know i know he knows
we share this dad and i drink most days that end in “y”
but never together sweat oozes down his face as tears do mine
wetness watering souls as if to say that which has been trodden to dust need not stay that way if only
he could see himself as i do but maybe
he says the same about me the two of us
tributaries spilling into the same muddy lake
an eternal dance that must only be done in the dark
step daddy, step daddy, step daddy
remember that time you cut my hair?
chopped braid, chopped liver
said with it I looked too much like my own daddy
cuttin’ the fat off chicken shortly after cuttin’ the pride off me
the only good indians are…
and those who listen.
spent our nights, you and I
ice cold fingers sprawling up my thighs, mimicking my veins
your skin so thin and translucent I could see your own waterways
of god knows what
all because you love me oh so much
and if I love you
I won’t tell
not even momma
‘cause you say she has vices of her own
I shouldn’t complain
about extra lovin’
my pillowcase sucks in my confessions
just like them kansas tornados
out of mind, out of sight
or however that saying goes
the only witness to my sins:
I sat folded over my knees folded to my chest or my chest folded to my knees
. . .
step daddy step daddy step daddy
haven’t seen you since momma snagged me, and we up and left
over a knowledge that was never spoken, but shared nonetheless
said she was sorry
and she loved me
but last I knew
you put my old sheets on y’all’s bed
a perfect fit, like you and me
you never complained about extras, either.
Biographical Note: Emma Cape is a junior at Amherst College where she studies English and American Studies with concentration in Native American Studies. Although she was born and raised on Kaw, Osage, Kiowa, Comanche and Pawnee land in Great Bend, Kansas, she has deep East coast roots as an Ojibwe and Lenape woman. Central to much of her work are the intersections between indigeneity, familial relationships, childhood, and experiences of “home.”