Matthew Dickman
Talisman

My mother is wearing the mean ape of her mother
around her neck like a talisman 
or a historical python
which has begun to squeeze, to do
what is natural for it to do. Someone once said
that your only enemy
is the person you see when you look in the mirror. That person
was never shot in the head
or made to eat his First Mate because the sea had crushed their ship
and left them to float
into oblivion. He never had to
fold his brother’s laundry while the body
which was his brother 
rode in the back of a quiet ambulance
through an ocean of green lights. My mother 
is trying to loosen her mother
from around her neck. 
For sixty years. When people are allowed to be 
with other people
you can bet someone is going to pull a short straw
from the fistful of long straws. They will have to
leave the safety of the village and walk into the unknown
dream of the forest. They will have to
sit in the psychiatrist’s office and want to drink whiskey
but talk about their father
instead. Someone once said
that children and their grandparents share
a common enemy. That is why they get along so well. 
My mother can barely breathe. If there is an enemy
waiting for me
it is her. She is the city of Moscow. I am all of West Germany.
We are the 80’s. Her mother
is fighting hard to keep her. Not to protect me
but so that she won’t ever be alone. 
Someone once said
forgive your enemies but never forget their names. That person 
sat in the crown of his family. He was born into the arms of love. 
He died in the lap of his wife. He was never given a penny
or a tooth or a lock of hair and told
it was lucky, that it would protect him and guide him and keep him              safe.

 
Found In Volume 39, No. 03
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  • Matthew Dickman
Matthew Dickman
About the Author

Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review, 2008), the recipient of The Honickman First Book Prize, The May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Award from Claremont College, and Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012). He is the poetry editor of Tin House