“Never Asking” by Madelyn Chen

Madelyn Chen


Winter nights we wore socks to bed and still
shuddered like thin panes against the wind.
We rubbed our hands together. We pulled 
the blanket past our noses. Over our pajamas
were hand-knit sweaters, cheaper than turning 
on the radiator. Our mother made us drink 
water from plastic bottles bought in packs of 
twenty-four. She collected the empty ones from
our hands, underneath our beds, corner piles
and all through the trashcan. Ripping and 
scraping away the sticky labels, she filled 
each bottle with sink water. Each cap was
firmly twisted back on, and into the microwave 
went three bottles at a time. Six minutes later, 
her tender hands would pull the bottles out, 
plastic steaming redness into her palms. 
In bed, she tucked the bottles under our feet.
This is how we fell asleep, never
asking if our mother needed warmth. 

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


Madelyn Chen: “As a kid, I rarely spoke unless I was spoken to. I was often late to class because I would hole up in the library, reading Shel Silverstein and Emily Dickinson, hearing their words instead of the bell. One day, I wrote my own poem. I liked it so much that I volunteered to read it at the school talent show. I remember struggling to raise my voice, to look up at the audience. I remember the applause. My teacher pulled me aside to tell me that I had a gift for writing. That I should share it more. So. Here I am, a law student at Harvard by day and a poet for life. I speak up more. I share more. I’m still finding my voice, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.” (web)

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