Jessie Mitchell’s Mother
By Gwendolyn Brooks
Into her mother’s bedroom to wash the ballooning body.
“My mother is jelly-hearted and she has a brain of jelly:
Sweet, quiver-soft, irrelevant. Not essential.
Only a habit would cry if she should die.
A pleasant sort of fool without the least iron. . . .
Are you better, mother, do you think it will come today?”
The stretched yellow rag that was Jessie Mitchell’s mother
Reviewed her. Young, and so thin, and so straight.
So straight! as if nothing could ever bend her.
But poor men would bend her, and doing things with poor men,
Being much in bed, and babies would bend her over,
And the rest of things in life that were for poor women,
Coming to them grinning and pretty with intent to bend and to kill.
Comparisons shattered her heart, ate at her bulwarks:
The shabby and the bright: she, almost hating her daughter,
Crept into an old sly refuge: “Jessie’s black
And her way will be black, and jerkier even than mine.
Mine, in fact, because I was lovely, had flowers
Tucked in the jerks, flowers were here and there. . . .”
She revived for the moment settled and dried-up triumphs,
Forced perfume into old petals, pulled up the droop,
Triumphant long-exhaled breaths.
Her exquisite yellow youth . . .