Why I Never Came
(Apology to My Mother)
I was nineteen, and that weekend I took
your old Chevrolet to the coast where I goaded
my sometimes lover, the one who put gin
in his coffee, into beating me. His fists
came like hammers, Mama, and when
he had worn himself out on me, when he dragged me
down the gravel road, I thought of you,
and when he laid me like a carcass
in the high grass at the side of Highway 1,
and the sea beat a hundred yards away, inseparable
from the throb of my body,
I thought of you then, too
but I did not come — you in the hospital
dying and I did not come. I bandaged
the ragged cut that swelled like an open mouth
over my eye and I did not come.
I could not say: Mama, I am my father’s
daughter, or Mama, I earn beatings
the way you earn wages. I remember
the moon that night rose slowly and hung
large and gibbous over the hills, over
the roof of the hospital and I watched it
from the front steps of your house until dawn.
Reprinted from Salt, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 1991.
Renée Ashley is the author of five volumes of poetry: Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Subito Book Prize); Basic Heart (winner of the 2008 X.J.Kennedy Poetry Prize); The Revisionist’s Dream; The Various Reasons of Light; and Salt (Brittingham Prize in Poetry, University of Wisconsin Press), as well as a novel, Someplace Like This, and two chapbooks, The Museum of Lost Wings and The Verbs of Desiring. Ashley teaches poetry in the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and across the genres in the MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators. She has received fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in both poetry and prose and a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A portion of her poem, “First Book of the Moon,” is included in a permanent installation in Penn Station, Manhattan, by the artist Larry Kirkland. She has served as Assistant Poetry Coordinator for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and, for seven years, as Poetry Editor of The Literary Review. Her new collection, The View from the Body, was published by Black Lawrence Press in March 2016.