Mama is a time-traveling word

Today’s selection is dedicated to my mother. I was once the five-year-old in this poem from Lhena Khalaf Tuffaha, an American poet of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage. I, too, wondered why my mom kept calling me “mom,” and felt mystified by language and everything encompassed in that magical word.

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“Translation”

She asks: why do you say Mama
when you
call me?

Six o’clock and I am tired.
And making dinner right now.
An Arab with a five-year-old demanding
neat-and-tidy American answers.
I phone it in:
That’s just how Arabic works.

Translation is a complicated dance.
Mama is the word
that holds you in
even when you are walking around in the world
with your own name,
so that calling you to me
I discard the self and
respond to the name you gave me,
becoming the person you made me.

Mama is a time-traveling word,
a song to you and to my own mother,
so that whenever I reach out to you
she is there too.
And calling you I am once again
the daughter, tethered to her
just as I am
locked in this lifelong embrace
with you.

I call myself and my own mother and you
all three of us, in one breath.

from Water & Salt 

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I am stitching a darkness you’ll need to unravel

If you encountered Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” as it traveled around the internet a few years ago, then you already know how beautifully she captures the concerns of a mother (or any parent-figure) for their children–or the anxiety all of us might share for future generations.

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“At Your Age, I wore a Darkness”

several sizes too big. It hung on me
like a mother’s dress. Even now,

as we speak, I am stitching
a darkness you’ll need to unravel,

unraveling another you’ll need
to restitch. What can I give you

that you can keep? Once you asked,
Does the sky stop? It doesn’t stop,

it just stops being one thing
and starts being another.

Sometimes we hold hands
and tip our heads way back

so the blue fills our whole field
of vision, so we feel like

we’re in it. We don’t stop,
we just stop being what we are

and start being what?
Where? What can I give you

to carry there? These shadows
of leaves—the lace in solace?

This soft, hand-me-down
darkness? What can I give you

that will be of use in your next life,
the one you will live without me?