“I Know All Mothers Say Their Children Are Sweet,” by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


but Ansel is sweet like raw raspberry pie.
He hugs and kisses my breast before latching
for his morning milk. When we last left
New York City, he whispered goodbye
to it as though he wished it would
remember him kindly, sticky on my lap at
Columbus Circle, delighted with each
of the hundreds of vehicles.

I think to when I was sixteen: walking my
dog down the street. A man angled his
white truck at us, stomped on the gas
and charged. Headlights ablaze like
orbed torches. I ran, pulled the leash
and screamed for my mother. He stopped,
backed up and laughed so hard as he sped off.

Now I wonder if he went home to children.
Did he cradle them with the same hands
that gripped the steering wheel, read
Green Eggs and Ham to them with
the same voice that cackled at my terror?

Then there’s me at eighteen, walking to
the grocery store in Kansas City for
navel oranges. A man grabbed my
shoulder and waist, pressed his erection
into my hip. My spine became stone and
stayed that way for so long I couldn’t
cry or it would shatter.

Now I wonder if this man was ever sweet.
Did he hug his mother with the same body
he assaulted me with. Did he nurse while
looking at her as though she were all
that’s good and wonderful in this universe?

As I watch footage of men whose faces
curl in smiles at violence, who believe
power can only come from subjugation,
I feel desperate.

How do I get my baby to remember his
sweetness. How do I get my baby to remember
his sweetness?

from Poets Respond


Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “This poem began with me outlining the ways I have been terrorized by men on the street, as triggered by the Charlottesville violence. I encountered a Twitter thread by @boguspress that made me consider how aggression is encouraged in boys from such a young age, which changed the poem to a mother’s voice.” (web)

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