“Girl’s Childhood” by Betsy Fogelman Tighe

Betsy Fogelman Tighe


You go to school and learn
there are places you can’t
take your mother.
You’re surprised, but complacent.
You grow able to play nearby
without interrupting,
though you don’t yet answer
questions put right to you
or know how to ask for help
when it is needed.

When your parents rumble
you know to hide in your room
scripting painfree lives for a host of happy
animals. A friend who won’t play
your way is banished forever.
What you don’t know yet,
alive in your absorbing minute,
is the distinction between sometimes
and never, or that who’s wrong shifts,
as does that bright flag waving in the wind.

School floods and first grade is delayed a week
while your third grade brother gets to go.
You’re cranky and aimless
till one afternoon you run away,
crying at the gate that you’re the stupidest one
in your crazy family.
You return, lured by cookies,
but still carrying the stupid belief.

Drawing, your mouth pulls into an O
your focus the center of a cyclone.
Fighting with your brother, you can’t quit first.
When your father yells, you bellow back.
“I hate you! Go away!” When he strikes
you cry together though he doesn’t know
his remorse cannot erase the marks.
What you haven’t learned is how
to defend against what turns you
from that center. Nothing is

healing yet, the static is dense.
What you know is the beloved mother
fails you, though you can’t quite admit
it yet, asking her to hold your art,
stroking her cheek in the evening.
In time you will hate her.
When forgiveness comes, you will be relieved,
but still, unforgetting.

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets


Betsy Fogelman Tighe: “I really like to cry. I can justify it by saying I am having a soulful experience called catharsis that connects me to the world of others, of art. Whatever. Poetry does it best for me. Oh, those luminous moments poetry stirs up where memory swims into your consciousness to create a present that whacks you hard. I like to print out poems and tape them to the counter in the high school library where I am trying to serve kids. Once in a while, I read one I’ve written to one of my own teenagers, whom I’ve been raising on my own for about eight years, and I can go on writing when he or she says, ‘That’s pretty good, Mom.’”

Rattle Logo