“you’ll never know what your mother went through” by KB

Editor Daniel Elder, Editor's Choice, September 30th, 2019

"Why when I look at you & see no traces of me I see a whole bloodline shrunk
down to a question mark."


Personal Essay by KB

  -after Sarah Manguso


  1. I only know I come from you because there are pictures. Some of B holding me like he believed I was his; some with others looking happy—all evidence that you and me existed alongside each other. You sat in the hospital bed, looking like you’d just birthed a child; Granny was there and somehow always has been. Somehow you never was, but at least I know those were taken before pictures could be doctored.
  2. In September after exhausting all other possibilities, I called & asked Granny for rent money. She gave it so willingly and you helped her set up the transfer account. I never think to ask you because I’ve come to learn that it’s not your role—caring for me.
  3. You asked me, after you had gotten a husband, if I wanted to stay with you. Eleven years after I didn’t have a choice. I’m glad I didn’t say yes. I’m glad I never gave an answer.
  4. Merriam-Webster defines mother as a woman in relation to her child or children. My therapist defines me as a person that mothers all of their partners. I offer selves that I never owned—a name, a tongue, a moment of time—to a partner in efforts to cosplay intimacy. And who are you when you leave your partner motherless? My partner leaves their clothes in my car and a bomb explodes.
  5. My partner kisses me and I wonder why funerals are always during the day. Her ability to kiss me is a processional & I don’t know if that’s what mothering is, but I appreciate her ability to receive me. My partner speaks in long-term, though I can only compute today and tomorrow. My partner didn’t need to be mothered anymore, so they left.
  6. I almost had a partner, but then they didn’t know how to be mothered. I almost had a partner that had a mother that did just fine. I almost had a partner that was a mother so my role was unclear and uncomfortable for both of us. She only came home mourning; never flourishing, only disappointed because I wasn’t a daughter.
  7. I didn’t want to be too tender with my new partner so we slept without touching to the sound of cicadas. She only came home to me. She only came home to a failed mother.
  8. For years I wondered, the way cicadas wander in their wings for sound, why my siblings were kept. Why when I look at you & see no traces of me I see a whole bloodline shrunk down to a question mark. I can’t forgive you, my only direct lineage, for everything I tell people about my birth dad. I can’t forgive for everything I know about him being imagined.
  9. I told everyone my dad was a plumber. My dad was a good man; blue collar, always bringing home the bills and hugging me when he got home real late. My dad was a good Christian man that just was stuck in traffic when it was time for a PTA meeting. My dad was a barber. My dad was a technician. My dad was a—
  10. I almost called you mother once.
  11. I almost met up with you at that coffee shop to exchange traumas like cicadas exchange their bodies with the wind. I almost believed in you. I almost let you tell me that we are the same because of our pain and you heal the best when you cry with your mother I almost let you—
  12. It’s true; I’ll never know what it must be like to give up your firstborn child, but I can imagine it being like them never calling you mother. Or a donation to their crowdfunding efforts every couple times a year. Or a facebook post with your husband that says “2 beautiful kids,” conveniently leaving out the 3rd. Or a text to them saying “I love you” & not knowing why they love you back.


Header image courtesy of Tim Okamura. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

KB [they/them] is a Black queer nonbinary poet, editor, and educator currently based in Austin, TX. They’ve received residency invitations from the Vermont Studio Center, Lambda Literary, The Hurston/Wright Foundation, The Watering Hole, Winter Tangerine, and UTSA’s African American Literatures and Cultures Institute. Their poetry appears in The Cincinnati Review, The Matador Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, NAILED magazine, The Shade Journal, Sappho’s Torque, and other pretty places. Follow them on twitter, instagram, or facebook.


Daniel Elder

Daniel Elder is a New York City native who now calls Portland home. He is the author of a self-published collection of essays and is currently revising a novella. He lives in an attic with his cat, Terence.