I know it in my teeth when I become her,
the way they tingle, tighten against each other,
and in my sudden rod straight spine.
Beside her at the table, my son twists away
from a sheet of questions on Lincoln.
He scuffs the floor with a squeak of sneakers,
whines, this is hard. She feels the pitch of his voice
on her scalp and, though I have poured tea,
wrapped her fingers around the heat of the cup,
she will not be calmed. You’re not trying,
she accuses, barks think!, then marches to the sink
to wash dishes, clattering them onto the rack
to show what accomplishment sounds like.
Behind her she can hear sighs and the tick
of a pencil hitting wood. Such an actor, she thinks.
But when she turns to him again his shoulders
are shaking, his face wet. This is what it takes
for her to leave us alone. I dry my hands,
hold him, rub slow circles on his back.
He is still such a small boy. Shhh,
I whisper, as if I could erase her work.
You can do this. You can.
Ona Gritz’s second children’s book, Tangerines and Tea: My Grandparents and Me, is forthcoming from Harry N. Abrams
this August. Her chapbook of poems, Left Standing (Finishing Line Press), will be out this fall. Her poetry has appeared in many fine online and print journals, and she is a frequent contributor to Literary Mama. Ona lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her son, Ethan.