The Take Archives
Ever wonder how journal editors make decisions about work to feature? The Take gives you a glimpse behind the scenes at Mud Season Review. Here, we feature one single poem that caught the attention of the editorial team, apart from the signature poetry portfolio of our bi-monthly issues. We hear from the author about the inspiration for his or her work, and we hear from a poetry co-editor about why the poem stood out.
My Mother(s) Remains
Do you want to go to the Bahamas? I opened
my mother’s ashes and was taken
by the color. Somehow, I thought she’d be slate
but she was like Florida,
coarse and tawny. What remains
is heavier than you’d think, full
of bones and grit. The weight
tugs you down. As I spooned
her into the little glass
jar, I remembered being six,
my aunt packed tight
in a cardboard urn while the lot
of us boarded a shaky propeller
plane. The pilot never said
to hold it low, let the wind
lap what’s left—she swarmed
us like wild things, left a thick
coating and we licked her chars
from philtrums. Brackish and dry, she shot
to our innards, became a burrowing,
permanent part of us all. I thought,
I don’t want my mother
to stay. Haunt my organs,
blow like smoke through dreams. How long
can someone stick
to the familiar? Cling scared
to all we hate? Like the gold
beggar children in Mexico, I brushed
her from my skirt and held my breath
against her dust. Maybe,
if I sprinkle her in the turquoise
of the tropics, salt the rim
a little more, she’ll finally release
those bitten nails and let me go.
My mother died unexpectedly of an opioid overdose in February. She’d spoken for years of what she wanted done with her remains, but as death tends to do, the processing (all of it) was not so straightforward. The scattering of ashes demands a nearly poetic sense of timing, and it seemed every possible element was against me. This poem is the final piece of letting go, a catharsis stronger than I’d ever anticipated.
From the Poetry Editors
We were drawn to My Mother(s) Remains on several levels. It is filled with brilliant double entendres. She not only defines physical remains, her aunt’s and her mother’s ashes, but she goes beyond and notes memories of her mother left behind; the emotional “weight” that “tugs you down.” Mehta delivers a horrific, yet fitting scene of the accidental consumption of her aunt’s remains; then she deftly takes us to her mother becoming a part of her; residing in her. We related to her struggle to move on and free herself from the feeling of loss.
On cold days when the dawn
seemed determined to drag
the whole sky back to bed,
I would find my uncle
propped on our porch, whiskey
red stranger’s face, first light
breaking as he unmade
his life, night after night.
In dream, he’d roll his head
on our rocker, snoring
like a bent exhaust pipe,
wincing in his wool cap
when the wind lashed him good.
Slumped in the spot where I
penciled answers to those
tough story problems, tripped
over his brown bag of
words, pretended I could
tiptoe past his shadow,
not see him anymore.
This is a poem in which I try to recreate the painful ambivalence an adult sometimes experiences when looking back on one’s childhood, on family members whom you may be ashamed of, or struggle to disavow, even as you nevertheless recognize their humanity. I never write strictly autobiographical poems, so while many of the concrete elements of “Day Breaking” are invented, the residual feelings that haunt the speaker are grounded in relatable points of reference.
From the Poetry Editors
The power of this piece lies in Fillman’s startling imagery and metaphor: “snoring like a bent exhaust pipe” and “tripped over his brown bag of words” stopped our hearts. It can be tempting to depict flawed loved ones by laying it on too thick. Here, the touch is light and without judgment. It’s a complete story in one compact scene, with characters in relationship, vivid setting, dramatic tension and unresolved conflict. In ten couplets, the poem delivers an emotional punch, much like the best flash fiction. We think readers will be drawn again and again to these lines.