Madhouse of Spirits

Jennifer Givhan

          And ghosts must do again / what gives them pain.

I unwrap a bar of amaranth soap and wash my own mouth
the way Mama used to do when I’d been profane;
I’m trying not to become the kind of parent I feel bound
to, with all this screaming, this relentless
motherloving fear. I think hard about Charlie Gordon
as a boy in Flowers for Algernon, how he couldn’t hold
his mess and made it on the floor, how he couldn’t
understand his mother’s screamings and beatings
and why she sent him to the sanitarium.
The mother eye isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: my own, well,
she used to wail as she spanked me with the wooden paddle,
the hole where the rubber ball should go, imagine it
blinking still. When I dream, to stop the train,
I must split myself in two; one of me is metal-hinged
& crushed, the other, with chest pain but living. I wake
with heartburn. How does one extract the violent bone
without mining that poor child’s spine?