Back to Issue Forty-Seven

First Mother




We sit in the cold white incense at work, asking each other are we
good women if only to answer in number of whole chickens cooked red for
the holidays. The men are few & men. They answer in hens killed. I
hide my eyes in the smoke, so I don’t have to answer. Silver bone cuts
from washing plucked wings sound too girlish. Yesterday, I had to ask
my mother how bread is made. She began you scoop out some starter (to
genesis) & throw it into pewter. I watched my mother make bubbles
with her lips as the water went in. She called the mixture yeast &
though I wanted to correct her, I couldn’t think of the right word
or any. I had done so little to meet life’s basic needs myself. My eyes
have slid past hand & batter turning in bowls to scored revelation
on a girdle in sheer Gray bliss. Once at a restaurant, I pulled
a single hair off a plate & horrified, showed it to my mother &
she, horrified too, shoved my hand & it under the table & said just
eat. Later, she explained first, you take the hair out of your own eye.


My grandmother passed before my mother gave birth. Now, so much
of her was left to be craved without mercy or consent & a second
mother had to see to mine & her hunger, terrible as a girl wild-eyed
for the last bite left on her mother’s plate. Send me bread so I may learn
to eat from a hand not my mother’s. The dough smarted. The cob’s
dark edge cut & gifted. So my mother was denied the center flesh
against verse & tradition. Bread is broken from the middle first & this
free core, the breadmaker’s gift to callers. When my mother received
hers, a blackened ring, rough with burnt banana leaf hairs, she just ate
the strands & later wept into her dreams. There, a good woman
waited for her daughter, gift in hand.


First Beasts



Click here to read “First Beasts” by Fiker Girma

Fiker Girma is a senior at Harvard from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, studying Government and French. She is a National Scholastic Art & Writing Medalist (2019) and recipient of the Roger Conant Hatch Prize for Lyric Poetry (2023).

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