Tracy Koretsky: “Pietà”

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,
    stretched out
across your mama’s lap, her strong young man,
    silent, cold;

your eyes closed. I leaned toward the screen when
    they showed
Mary’s face, all the sorrow in the world in them
    stone eyes.

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
    than that,

I know. Don’t have to say nothing; a mother just
So I told him he might as well fall in love with a
    rich man

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.
    Nearly broke
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
    anyway. Then

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,
    saying “Never
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
    a mother,
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
    hair without
gloves, Lord, without masks. I never got to hold
    my baby

cool across my lap. Mortician made me pay extra
    just to clean
him. Now, before you go and listen to someone
    else’s troubles

I want to say I saw that statue again: on a card at
    the Well-Mart.
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.