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Mothers and Daughters

A poem by Isabel Newcom, senior English Major


I come from a long line of women –

Women who rage against a storm

For daring to cross them and

Wipe their tears for daughters with curses on

Their painted lips.

Women who shrink against their fathers’

Hands and belts and minds

While their daughters learn to strike out

With the same weapons that scarred them.

Women whose hearts were broken

One too many times,

And women whose hearts molded mine.

I come from the woman who birthed me

In a storm.

Tornado sirens’ screams yelled in sync with my mother,

And she wept with the rain

When I was placed into my father’s arms.

She bore the pain of another life and smiled,

As many women do,

Because she too is born of a storm.

I come from the woman who taught me that men want silence

As if I hadn’t been born from the anguished screams

Of my mother.

As if she hadn’t been born of the same.

Stillness and invisibility were her supposed virtues,

Like the silence between the trees during a hunt,

But I’ve never heard a man’s laugh carry

Quite as far as hers

Through the forest that her hands have tended.

I come from the woman who taught me hatred

Before I even reached her knees.

Her father’s hatred transformed into a hatred

For my father, but it was nothing if not a lesson

Of first hand experience.

With malice in her eyes and rage in mine,

I stood against her fire and brimstone

With the first realization that I carried

A fire of my own.

I come from the woman who taught me the strength

Of a girl whose back can take lashes better than most.

The man with the cigarette and the Cheshire grin

Caused none of the fear that the sight of her

Meek smile

Shot through my unsteady soul,

But I know now that she has always shared the weight

Of Atlas’ daughters and deserves to hold her head high

Above Orion’s stars.

I come from the woman who taught me kindness

In the face of anguish.

Her hands were steady and weathered as they tended

To the wounds on my knees with patience

That only comes from a gentle soul.

Those same hands held my own

And told me about my strength

In a way that no one else ever would.

A kind woman can bring devils to their knees,

And this woman had fought bigger devils

Than any man could conjure for me.

I come from a long line of women -

Storms birthed from the roar of Scylla,

Dryads whose footsteps always echo,

Chimeras with flame-tipped tongues,

Starlit doves singing ballads full of grief,

Angels armed with both swords and shields -

Whose own mothers’ fury will always follow me.

Ancient lines of mothers and daughters course

Through our veins,

So god help the men that cross us

Because they’ll need all the help they can get.

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