Leah Browning

Rookie (1973- / New Mexico)

I Go Back In Time And Rescue My Mother - Poem by Leah Browning

I know just where to find her, standing at the stove,
frying potato latkes in a cast-iron skillet. Her apron
is spattered with dark spots of grease, and waves
of heat rise up from the stove, pasting her dark hair
against the dampness of her neck and temples.

“Can’t you make them any faster? ” I am asking,
ten years old, at the table with my brother and sister.
The little pancakes are made of raw potato, grated
into a bowl and mixed with egg and salt and pepper.

It is dark outside, early winter. I arrive as a gust
of cold air, blowing in under the front door, hovering
in the space over the table, over the serving plate
with its bed of paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

There have been so many times that she’s said,
“I just want to run away, ” spoken in anger
and in desperation, that I expect her to come
willingly, to take the ghostly fingers I offer
and allow herself to be pulled away

from all of us, from that life—the whining,
bickering children, the unfulfilled ambitions,
the husband who works long hours and listens
from a distance. The loneliness. The emptiness.

Everything that I know now she must have felt.
“I can save you, ” I whisper, pulling at her hand,
but she slips away, turning instead toward the table,
squandering what feels like her only chance for escape,

though the door is unlocked and she’s chosen a million
times to stay. So I seep out of my childhood
home and go back to my own life. To the whining,
bickering children, the unfulfilled ambitions,
the husband who works long hours and listens

from a distance. The loneliness. The emptiness.
My mother calls on weekends after going
to bookstores or concerts, after sleeping until ten.
I stand at the stove, cooking hot foods over cast iron.

When my daughter arrives from her future life
to save us both, I find that I scarcely feel the hint
of air on my hand. But I am ready. I’ve been waiting
years now for someone to come and rescue me.

She pulls my arm away from the clothes I am folding,
from the dirty dishes and the trash that needs to go out.
And we get all the way to the front door before I hear
her voice—nine and a half years old, siren sweet rising
up the stairs—and find that I, too, am unable to leave.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, June 15, 2007

Poem Edited: Saturday, March 12, 2011


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