Adrienne Rich





Mother-in-Law

Tell me something
                                you say
     Not: What are you working on now, is there anyone special,
     how is the job
     do you mind coming back to an empty house
     what do you do on Sundays
Tell me something . . .
                                            Some secret
     we both know and have never spoken?
     Some sentence that could flood with light
     your life, mine?
Tell me what daughters tell their mothers
everywhere in the world, and I and only I 
even have to ask. . ..
      Lately, I hear it: Tell me something true,
      daughter-in-law, before we part,
      tell me something true before I die

      And time was when I tried.
You married my son, and so
strange as you are, you're my daughter
Tell me. . . ..
      I've been trying to tell you, mother-in-law
      that I think I'm breaking in two
      and half of me doesn't even want to love
      I can polish this table to satin because I don't care
      I am trying to tell you, I envy
      the people in mental hospitals their freedom
      and I can't live on placebos
      or Valium, like you
 
A cut lemon scours the smell of fish away
You'll feel better when the children are in school
      I would try to tell you, mother-in-law
      but my anger takes fire from yours and in the oven
      the meal bursts into flames
Daughter-in-law, before we part
tell me something true
 
      I polished the table, mother-in-law
      and scrubbed the knives with half a lemon
      the way you showed me to do
      I wish I could tell you”
                                        Tell me!
They think I'm weak and hold
things back from me. I agreed to this years ago.
Daughter-in-law, strange as you are,
tell me something true

tell me something
                             Your son is dead
      ten years, I am a lesbian,
      my children are themselves.
      Mother-in-law, before we part
      shall we try again? Strange as I am,
      strange as you are? What do mothers
      ask their own daughters, everywhere in the world?
      Is there a question?
                                   Ask me something.


spoken = Karen Marek