ISABELLA J. MANSFIELD

★ ★ ★ ★

POETRY

Sitting At The Playground With My Son

I really don’t know when it was
that I lost my imagination 
my sense of fun,
or playfulness. 
He wants me to play
“What do you want to play, Mom?”

I want to play
“There’s more coffee in the pot”
and “I hope I didn’t forget to pay the water bill”
I want to play “Can’t I just sit here and read?”
I am always tired.
Parenthood is more interactive than I have
energy for and I’d rather pay
a pricey admission at the hands-on museum than
actually be hands-on some days. Most days.

He wants to play tag and run and slide and jump
and be a seven-year-old and I wish I had stopped
for a 2:30 coffee that I would regret at 11:30.
There are other kids on the playground.
My son is an only child and doesn’t play with them,
but wants to play with me.
I was the youngest of 4 and I liked to be alone.

Like to be alone.

He digs in the sandbox and slides down the slide
(“I’m gonna slide down a million times!”
He gets to four and gets bored and distracted.)

It starts to rain and all the other moms
and a few Cool Dads
pack up their blankets and skateboards
and snacks and kids and go home.

“Everybody in!”

But the mother ducks and mother geese
come running from the puddle next to the big lake.
I imagine them pushing the ducklings and goslings
from the nest and quacking
“Everybody out!”
Every mom has a breaking point, I guess.

My son was born in the desert
and wants to keep playing in the rain.

Mom Wants to Talk

Let’s talk, she says
and I worry this is a setup
like an intervention, but just her and just me
sitting Switzerland for coffee
neutral grounds for fear of making a scene

She wants me to go back to church
for my son, at least, but I don’t know how
to explain to her that I tried to explain
the finer points of a Catholic Mass to him
and stopped myself, when I could not reconcile
how strange it all sounded
how fairy tale, but not in a good way
I’ve lost the patience for church
and she doesn’t understand that faith
is not limited to the confines of a building
it is not faith itself nailed to the cross

Mom wants to talk
Let’s talk, she says
and in my head, I’m running down
the checklist of “topics to avoid”
it seems to only get longer by the week
I can’t discuss politics
or religion, she tunes out when
I mention poetry and every time
I bring up a “safe” topic, she interrupts
or picks up her phone
“Kids these days are so disrespectful”
I’m sure I’ll hear, maybe if I strain my ears
over the sound of her bubble popping game
or the eight notifications a minute
or the text from my brother that
always takes priority over 
face to face conversation with me

I have nothing to say anyway, so I’ll listen
Listen to mom criticize the size of my thighs
They used to be too big, by her standards,
now they’re too small.
She doesn’t notice the tone in my shoulders,
the strength from carrying burden after burden.
She doesn’t talk about that,
but tells me that my legs are too skinny,
but tells me she can see the bones in my chest
but tells me that “Women my age who lose
that much weight are trouble.”
I do not ask her to elaborate.

I think she has never known me at all.
Does she want to get to know me better?
Does she want me to talk about the years
I was on birth control while I lived with
my boyfriend before marriage?
Or the 16-year-old buying her first pregnancy test,
then canceling an appointment at planned parenthood
when red relief came a week and a half late?

Does she want me to talk about how
I have friends who are queer?
She’s “fine with that,” she “knows people that are gay,”
and “doesn’t need to know all the private details”
like “private details” are all anyone talks about
or that an entire community dedicates
their lives trying to convert everyone to their way
(oh, wait. that’s Christianity)
She says she’s okay with “those people” but the problem
is calling them “those people.”

Does she want me to talk about how I didn’t
and would never vote for Trump?
No. She shuts that one down immediately.
Talk about anything else but that. She thinks
“He’s doing a fine job.”

Mom wants to talk
and I don’t deny her the respect she has earned
she is, after all, my mother,
but she stocks her armory
with tiny daggers that pierce
every wall I’ve ever built
and every “Let’s talk over coffee”
is a Trojan Horse outside the gate

Isabella J. Mansfield listens almost exclusively to the same seven albums from 1994. She loves coffee, movies, sarcasm, and is occasionally prone to exaggeration. Writing mostly free-verse poetry about lust, anxiety, and the human condition, she enjoys senryu and tanka, but otherwise ignores traditional “rules” when it comes to writing.

Author of two self-published chapbooks, Mansfield’s poetry has been featured by Philosophical Idiot, The Weekly Avocet, The Reverie Journal and The Prose Haiku Edition. In 2017, she was selected as a Semi-Finalist for the Second Annual Brittany Noakes Award. In 2018, she received the Mark Ritzenhein New Author Award. Her chapbook, “The Hollows of Bone” will be released in early 2019. She lives in Howell, Michigan, with her husband and son.

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