By Mahalia Gaff

The Light of Your Innocence
Five years old and you tear
yourself away from your mama’s grasp.
Racing to the swings,
              the monkey bars,
                           the slides.

You don’t look back, not once.
You don’t see, but if you had—
if you had glanced—
if only for a moment—
the world around you—

you would’ve seen the light playing through the trees,
dancing within your mama’s glossy eyes.
Oh, the joy she has found in you, but still—
you run.
Wait. If only for a moment—
           remember that light, dear one.

Seven years old and you know
best now.

Speaking your mind with defiance,
               balling your fists tightly,
                          with glossy eyes you stare
at your Velcro shoes,
as she whispers to you,

     it’s okay to share,
     it’s okay to let him play too.
But it’s not—you know it’s not,
and wondering why
your mama is not on your side,

you scream at the boy standing beside you,
his fingers intertwined on the rope:

She looks at you,
gazing like one might at the mountains—
                            awe and
           terror and
a realization
of who you’re becoming,
of the you in those
balled fists and
          teary eyes and
                  shaky voice,
the you that she doesn’t recognize,
the you that is all your own making.

Ten years old and you still
haven’t learned to share.
Mama has looked at you
             every day
                        since that first fight,
whispering her heart
into the deafness of yours:

     it’s okay to be angry,
     but don’t hang onto that anger.
But Mama didn’t get it, did she?
It wasn’t about the sharing, was it?

You wanted her on your side,
to defend you, right?
You are confused how her whispers—
                                                 so gentle—
can seem like shouting echoes,
reverberating off
of the emptiness you feel inside.

Mama I don’t understand,
why don’t you help me?
Your brows furrow,
                      deep wells,
                               and you decide—
you will no longer come to the park.
Mama stares intensely at you when you tell her.

     Just don’t forget it,
     don’t forget
     the light.

you shout at her.
And then—
            you go running again—
                                    away from her.

Thirteen years old now and
since you decided to stay indoors,
in that cramped apartment with
             its tiny windows and
                          thick blinds,
you say much more to sting her,
you don’t mean to—
except that you do; you really do.
Your hands have found a permanent resting place,
each one upon a hip and your eyes, little one,
they are like bowling balls the way you roll them,
          and round
                         and round,
because you know best, right?
That must be it, you have finally concluded.
Mom is here because she has to be,
not because she knows what is best.

     Let’s go outside, Love, let’s see the sunshine.

I don’t want to,
your close your door behind you.
A thudding you’ve never made before.
A slam you don’t mean—
except that you do; you really do.

     Oh, my dear,
Mama gazes at the bottom of the door,
darkness and your escape into your Play Station
wafting through, reminding her,
of all that she cannot know about you.

     Don’t forget it, do not let yourself forget it.

Fifteen years old and boy,
you are becoming.
You play basketball and
             you’re popular among your people—
                          their praise is all that matters to you now.
Girls stare your way,
they invite and tempt your attention,
and you let them.
And the boys admire you,
like you know they should,
as you walk on by.
Your hands grasp
         the hands of those you find worthy,
hug the girls
        you find pretty.

You’ve become a force, as everyone does,
as mama saw you becoming.

This is my hallway,
your demeanor at school exclaims.
You don’t have to talk.
You don’t have to say a single thing,
and they part ways,
to let you play with whomever and whatever you please,
and that is just how you like it—they give, and you take.

     The world is yours right now—or so you think—
     dearest one, but don’t forget that light.

Seventeen years old, and you’ve
It’s taken what feels like a lifetime for you to feel this hurt.
Driving to your girlfriend’s out in the bitterness of January,
your tires found themselves in the ridges of ice so black,
the light wouldn’t have even revealed it.
Wrecked in the ditch, you call Mom.

I can’t feel my right hand.
Mama, I need you.

     I’m coming.
An ambulance, doctor, and X-ray later,
and you’ve broken it.
More than a scratch, you’ve finally crashed,
and you feel the pain.

I thought I’d be fine.
For the quickest second,
I thought I could control it.

     Much of this life is out of your control,
     forces of nature will ignore you.

     They have no plan,
     they only are,
     and will not heed your desires.
It’s dawn when, together, you leave the hospital.
The morning fresh and bright.
Mom slowly stops, eyes closed, and face turned heavenwards.
There were trees swaying above you both,
and this time, you stared at her, only for a moment.
It feels familiar—
Have I been here before?
Have I walked here before?
Have I seen this before?
Mama, you whisper, let’s go.

Eighteen years old and you’ve
finally lost.
The scholarship,
        you girlfriend,
                the rest of your school year.
You graduated suddenly.
     I am so proud of you, love.
But you felt so lost
and so incredibly alone,
left within the deep wells of you
that you couldn’t seem to escape.
Mom saw how your head leaned
upon your hand
as you gazed at the TV.

     Let’s go for a drive somewhere,
she whispered.
Out of the cramped apartment,
racing past the hospital,
your head still leaning upon your hand,
you gazed, now, out the car’s window.
Did you see it yet?
     Almost there.
The route suddenly looked familiar.

The car parked and you didn’t move.
Mom opened your door and grasped your left hand,
holding tighter than anyone else ever did.
She pulled you to the swings,
        the monkey bars,
               the slides.

     Shhhh, look.
Do you see it yet?
Moments pass as you stare.

     It’s okay…
You suddenly remember the whisper,
unfolding all around you.
You close your eyes, turning your face heavenwards,
the trees above letting droplets of light fall through the leaves.
You open your eyes and gaze at your mama,
with awe and terror—
for how she loves you—
for what she knows.
You see her now,
you really do.
The light dances within her glossy eyes—
You whisper—
I see it, mama.