Tracy Koretsky is a poet, novelist, and literary critic who has won over 50 awards, including three Pushcart Prize nominations. Later this fall, she’ll be taking over my poetry critique column in the Winning Writers newsletter (subscribe free). I’ve long been a fan of her novel Ropeless, a comic, poignant story about an old-fashioned Jewish mama, her mentally disabled son, and a dutiful daughter learning to follow her dreams.
Tracy’s poetry collection Even Before My Own Name is now available for downloading as a free e-book in PDF format. Visit her website to order a copy. She kindly shares this poem from the book below.
Just before the end we watched you there,
across your mama’s lap, her strong young man,
your eyes closed. I leaned toward the screen when
Mary’s face, all the sorrow in the world in them
Newslady said some sad soul splattered red paint
your chest, across your mama’s face. I wondered if
it made a tear. Said the madman tried to break you
with a hammer. Couldn’t do it though. Takes more
I know. Don’t have to say nothing; a mother just
So I told him he might as well fall in love with a
as a poor one. I told him, “You be careful,” you
He promised he was. Got scared when I caught
rubbing his throat. I made him see that doctor
That doctor. Had to wear a mask and robe just to
see my son,
had to use gloves to touch his hair, straight and
thin like a white
boy’s. He hated to see me coming at him like that;
he’d say, “Let me
see your face, Mama.” “No, son.” I had to say.
us both in two. So I took him home. Hospital’s no
place for a boy
to die. Quit my job, brought him cookies. He’d eat
bag after bag;
always offer me some. I wasn’t sure, but I ate
my boy would groan and curl. I knew what I had to
do. Roll him
over, untape the padding, soak the rag in the
bucket, wring it,
wring it, pat on the powder with my gloved hand,
you mind, son.” My son.
If your Mama didn’t shed no tears it was ’cause
she never had to
powder your thirty-year-old bottom. Oh, I know
you got your
reasons, ain’t for me to question in this life, but as
you know, I gotta say: You wanted my boy, Lord?
you hold him near. You let his pretty voice rise up
in your choir.
You greedy for my boy, Lord? So bad you couldn’t
just thirty years? Then tell your mama to touch his
gloves, Lord, without masks. I never got to hold
cool across my lap. Mortician made me pay extra
just to clean
him. Now, before you go and listen to someone
I want to say I saw that statue again: on a card at
Opened it real fast. It said nothing, just…nothing. I
took it home.
Put it in his drawer, under the paper. Put a lock
on the door so I can sleep nights. Sometimes I
if they got the thing cleaned off. I dream of rags in
of red, Mary’s stone hand wringing wringing.