my mother and i loiter by Tatiana M.R. Johnson


on the front steps of

some young professional’s

apartment in boston

she smokes

i hold my breath

it is hard for both of us

to breathe

for wildly different reasons

hers: heavy doses of meds

mine: small doses of meds

meant to make seeing her

less painful, other things

less crushing

today it is hot

she tries to blow her cigarette

smoke away from me

she doesn’t know much

about me anymore

but she knows i’ve always

hated the smoke

she knows

i’ve always hated how we’ve

never been able to connect


she used to roll

my infant body in a stroller

while she fumbled through


i knew nothing

but how to love her

the way babies know


the way babies don’t

know that they

are experiencing

pain but that something

is breaking? ? ? ? ? and my mother


is a hurting thing but like a baby

she doesn’t know this

so i sing to her

about my job and how the family is doing

this calms her all the time

i imagine

she feels no pain if only for a moment

and i can smile as i wonder

if this is how it feels to be a mother

to know the world

and all its evil and to soothe anyway

even when the consoling never comes back

and you’re left empty

i can’t pretend to know about birthing

but i know how to make up happy stories

for a woman on a front stoop

who can’t believe her daughter

is three years from thirty


who can’t believe she had a baby once

chanting back every lullabye


meant to make things okay

meant to shield

everything soft

like we are told

only mothers could

i don’t know

how to be a mother

but somehow

i have learned

to keep

every hard

lesson tucked away

until enough time

has passed

until the world

has aged us both

old enough

to learn

Tatiana Johnson

Tatiana Johnson

Tatiana M.R. Johnson a fall 2018 MFA candidate, in poetry, at Emerson College. She is the recipient of the2018 Gish Jen Fellowship at the Writers' Room of Boston and a 2017 Pushcart Prize XLI nominee. Her writing explores identity, trauma, especially inherited trauma and what it means to heal. Her first collection of poems “for the love of black girls” was released in July 2017. She has been published in Fog Machine, Hypertrophic Press, Maps for Teeth Magazine among others.
Tatiana Johnson

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