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poetry My Mother Cleans and Starts the Gumbo

"What does it mean to have/a child in prison?" asks New Orleans poet Karen Maceira, observing how her mother answers and can't answer that question.

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My Mother Cleans and Starts the Gumbo

By Karen Maceira

Wet shirts flapped on the line like a choir
recalling a fleshy home.  She could do nothing
to break the prison bars holding her son,
but she could scour the cheap linoleum.
She could press the sheets, fabric to soothe
our dreams.  What does it mean to have
a child in prison?  For which sin do you ask
absolution, forgiving yourself over and over?
Which sin do you keep for comfort or for rage
in case the bars come close enough to bend
aside with your bare hands?  My mother’s long
spoon banged the edge of the heavy pot,
loosening roux from the spoon’s pitted bowl.
My mother’s industry swelled like song.

A native of New Orleans, Karen Maceira holds an MFA from Penn State University.  Her poems have appeared in numerous journals such as Blackbird, The Beloit Poetry Review, Louisiana Literature, The New Orleans Review, and the Christian Science Monitor. She has also had reviews in The Harvard Review and the Xavier Review, as well as essays in the Hollins Critic and The Journal of College Writing.  She currently teaches English in a suburb of New Orleans and is completing a manuscript entitled The Courtyard at Croissant d'Or.