Better Mother

Bad daughter, born from
Tiger's mouth. Her teeth
Caught, left this spiraling
Scar. Her words caught,
Each syllable spiraling,
Whipping like her stripes.

Lashes upon lashes, until
I had stripes like hers—
Overlapping, spilling
Over my haunches.

I gave birth in a different way.
Feet splayed, hips swung wide
Until you ripped out of me,
Unbound scream stayed fast
By bind of cord. Pain weighed
By your weight and afterbirth.

My teeth chewed through.
Hand slapped you from blue
To scalding cry. Swaddled, soft
Holding. Rocking. Radiant lullaby.

I remembered her milk. White like
Teeth. How my throat choked. Bitter.
Having already made my offering
To her when she threw me, a child,
Heartbeat of terror, meat for my father—
I promised to be a better mother.

KAREN POPPY has published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her chapbooks Crack Open/Emergency (2020) and Our Own Beautiful Brutality (2021) were both published by Finishing Line Press. Her chapbook, Every Possible Thing (2020), was published by Homestead Lighthouse Press. An attorney licensed in California and Texas, Poppy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.