Helplessness’ Child

When my mother told me she wished

she had gotten a divorce before I was

born, I could tell from her tone

that this was different from all the times

she’d look at me and ask God,

like I was God, why

he had punished her with me.

It wasn’t about trying to make me

wish I was a better child, just that I was not

a child anymore and she felt

she had to warn me not to repeat her life

but continue it and perhaps

by continuing it, set it right.

Once she made me kneel

facing the wall and stretch my arms

as high as they would go,

and watched my little back tremble

until I could hold my arms no longer.

When she asked me what I’d learned

I remember I wanted to scream

I hate you but knew somehow

it would hurt her more if I screamed

I hate myself, I hate myself,

so I did, over and over, I knew

when you watch a person you love

collapse into themselves you want nothing

more than to run into the boxing ring, the battleground

of them, take all the blows they deal,

all the shots they fire into the enemy

of their own being. If I could I would

without a second thought unravel the knot

of my mother’s heart into something

like sense, and if it’s true what they say

about how when you have a child

your heart begins to live outside your body

I would undo my life and throw it to her

like a rope, like I were a climber at the top

of the mountain and she’d left something

up there before making her way down and needed

to go back for it one more time. If I saw

my own heart, helpless and unknowing

creature, living outside me, I would also

want to tell it to kneel against the wall

and raise its arms until it could account

for what it had made of my life.

In a note she left in my bag

when I went to sleepaway camp

she said to be my mother

was the greatest joy of her life

and I knew, even at ten, there were greater joys

she had wanted, they lived in her dreams

and disappeared when she woke

to make my breakfast each morning,

and I wanted so badly then

to be those dreams, to disappear.


Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong, an Asian woman with bangs sitting on a sunny lawn.

Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong is from Oregon. Her work has been featured in ONLY POEMS, Shenandoah, and The Columbia Review, among others.