“Rough Ties: All Mothers Are Single” by Susan Terris

Susan Terris


This isn’t epidurals, breastfeeding, or 2 a.m.
white nights. This is about the long arc of letting go—

single, partnered, or not—of what another generation
called apron strings. Personally, I’ve never

worn an apron. Still to protect a child, even one of
thirty or forty, a mother often wishes for

a sweaty palm tugging at rough ties or a hand
tucked into her blossom-splashed pocket.

Blossoming is the first time the child walks into the ocean
in her flowered tank suit and doesn’t glance back.

Look, is there any father in this picture calling, Be careful.
Keep watching the incoming waves.
And when

she turns away at Baker Beach, and the undertow
sucks her down, who darts to grab

her churning body in the surf. Fun, she said,
as she coughed up seawater. Today, in the cove of

an unpredictable ocean, I search for this girl-woman
who has gone deep. She is out there, with

no strings, and I—though married—am single.

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

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Susan Terris: “In some way, all mothers, as ‘Rough Ties’ says, are single. The mother often is the caretaker, worrier, and the go-to parent. Living with a husband with dementia, however, creates a new definition of what it means to be a single mother—my oldest child is 77. When I am writing, the question I ask myself most often is ‘Who cares?’ If my answer is ‘No one,’ that poem gets zapped. If the answer is ‘Many,’ I am willing to share it.” (www.susanterris.com)

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