“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


that time.


so instead


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




splattered body,

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


but that

you look

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.


“Mirror Images”

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

and that 

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:

soiled sheets. 


I sat folded over my knees folded to my chest or my chest folded to my knees


it doesn’t 




. . .  


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

endlessly, endlessly


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.”