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The Real Life Application of Integers

by Kerry Radloff about a year ago in sad poetry

(Munchausen Mothering... when mother is not well.)

The Real Life Application of Integers
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

From the moment I was born, lacking the pendulum of a penis, my mother taught me the integers of that singular sin. Scrotum-less and with the buds of breasts still a-nestle in my bony chest, she calculated the defiance, multiplied the charges by XX, and began her accounting. On my mother’s number line, it was impossible to be a credit minus the fragile fraction of Y.

≥ Zero. The second of my first breath. Two is blue and the colour of my lips. Three is the hurtling of my heart in my ears. Twenty-one. My bones peer through the shallow shelter of my skin. Thirty-three. Rubbing the new, purple skin grown over the scar on my throat. Forty-four, and I am weightless though I have doubled my twenty-one size. Flesh. Covering multitudes of smaller but no less punishing sins. Fifty-five. Fifty. Five.

Five and zero and five make one if you break them apart hard enough. That’s Numerology one – oh - one. One. The one still standing. The one with borrowed words from poets used as a map. I am, I am, I am tattooed black on a wrist. And I exist as I am, that is enough circling an elbow. i carry your heart with me. i carry it in my heart around a breast. And an Orion’s belt of cigarette burns blaze across the milky surface of a thigh.

One Million. Memories. An appliqued seal balances a ball on his nose, next to an elephant wearing bright ribbons. The window with circus curtains opens onto the curve of a tall building, tips of palm trees and an early morning sun. Young Mother walks away from me. And with her she carries the crochet cushion. It must go back to its place on the small chair in another room. One.

Breath stolen. Feeling blue. Two. As blue as blue can be. Blue lips. Blue fingertips. Three. Four. Five. A bathroom. A door that will not open. The bathwater is lukewarm and I sit in it believing I must be adopted. I don’t fit in. My smile is the wrong shape. And it’s understood it will never be right. No matter how bright.

The electric smell of my small palms. The thumping drum of my tiny heart. Pillows. The empty weight of sheets across my face. These are things that could wake me up screaming. Somewhere else in the dark is a dog dying on the front lawn, the ratty ears of a cloth rabbit and the coolth of my mother’s hands. The shells on her flawless fingertips. Sharp as nails, those pretty shells. Six and seven, eight, nine, ten.

Tears that hurt hot like acid. Feeling how my cheek and nose swell. Eleven. And one, two, three, four or more. But eleven brings the first true monster of a migraine, sky nose-diving overhead. Other pains in my skull before are so pale. So pale by comparison. Angry Mother. Walking away. Her perfectly hard hand bright pink.

Mucous from my nose. Down my throat. Choking me. But I know how to hold my breath by now, I know how to swallow, so I’ll be okay. If only my head would stop. Would just stop. Or maybe my heart. Count from zero through twelve as fast as you can, now. Useless, ugly girl. You should never have been born. Sometimes I ask myself why I bother with you at all.

This is an excellent question. Only you did and, truly, the question should be Why? As in Why. Did. You. Another question is how? How could you? On any given day, there are a myriad more questions, and none of them sufficient to the real-life application of integers. None adequate for reality. No answer more eloquent than the obviousness of my sex. Poor Mother. Poor, poor Mother, beset upon by the sin of my sex.

The brilliance of your brother. Says Happy Mother. My beautiful boy. Clever, wonderful. Beautiful. Boy. Come, my lovely boy. Let me look and look at you. Let me find you perfect. My son. My golden, glorious boy. And see here? Last born, born at last, another super son. Lucky Mother. Not one, but two. Two brilliant, beautiful boys. And you? Ugly girl. Useless. Girl. Come here, let me show you. Too big for cushions these days so let’s listen instead, shall we? No better nature, Ugly. Ugly and useless. Waste of time. Never be anything worth admiring. Thirteen. Twenty-one, two, three, four and more.

Words. Words are astounding. They can feel worse even than cushions. Or nails. Or small, pale hands. Words are like bamboo shoots. They grow and grow, and impale from the bottom up, or the top down. Cushions are removed, eventually. And nails tear off. Words cause cysts of uncertainty and frantic tumours. Cysts of burning holes into my skin to determine whether agony is real. Tumours of thin, bloody lines that make more words. Words carved into the soft skin inside my thighs. Etched underneath the cover of knickers, hidden by the weight of cotton. On my wrist. Along a finger. A tender dictionary of ache. Useless. Useless. Girl. Love X-d out beneath a breast, across a heart. A hip bone grows through WhyWhyWhy. High-pitched hip bone, jagged words.

Words make hidden bruises more purple even than those others that never could quite be explained away. A Milky Way of burns along a breast was sixteen. And remodeled at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Twenty-seven and counting.

Thirty. A gift from a friend. And a card with good words. Gentle words. A card with love. Laughing Mother says, her mouth a hacksaw, Oh, don’t be fooled. Not for one minute. No-one is ever going to love you for very long. The look on her face is suggestive of cushions, and the longing for my bated breath.

Loss. Forty-three. An unplanned baby, floating like a snowflake in the globe of my womb. Dead upon being born. Perfect little foot, and a face like his father’s. Blood like a bomb-blast on the whiteness of the bed. Nurse Mother brings cakes and makes soup. Sits at the bed. Holds bowls of boiling broth in those pale, hard hands, and smiles like a saint. See how good she is. Look. See how kind, how she makes good food with those little hands. Kind Mother. Feed that ungrateful daughter. Ungrateful. Ungracious. Look how far you travelled, Good Mother, and yes, I know it should be obvious you are so very tired, such sacrifice. Just to be here. The magnitude of martyred munificence. She feeds soup, and smile beatifically, and says It is better this way. Being a mother is so terribly difficult, and is not for the faint of heart. Still, she spoons in soup. She is exponentially good at this. The sum of illness calculated reliably from the data of repeat performances. She looks so stoic. Brave. What a Brave Mother. ∞ of bruising and not at all faint-hearted.

Forty-five. Or forty-six, forty-seven. Faint of heart. And spirit. In a hurry to score new phrases on skin. No Better Nature. Incapable. Waste. Of. Time. And so not at all like Golden Boy. Or his baby brother. The one Delighted Mother lights up over, rose-bud mouth kissing the words “My baby!” even though he is a father himself now.

Half a century. Plus. Bruises and cushions. Hairbrushes, spoons, hands. Hands and pins. And coat-hangers. Dark rooms. Too big now for those things, but taught since Zero to pay attention. So words, instead. Cysts and tumours may have been built from those early damages, but words? Words are mighty. Like unpinned hand-grenades they roll across the floor of a faint-hearted heart. Hot they roll, as searing as the callous that is Cold Mother’s heart.

Scars. Keloid things on my skin. Keloid thoughts. Fifty. Fifty-four. Finally, Mean Mother finishes her life’s work. New word. Thief. Not too far removed from Liar. Liar was reserved for small red shoes. Liar is for the man next door. My size Two shoes. Wet. Liar.

Thief is for now. Too old to mannoeuvre. Too big for small hands on shoulders, and pointing in the direction of attics and rocking horses. Liar is for what God was going to do to me as I bled. Thief is for now. Thief is for daring. Daring to question. Refusing to agree. For fighting for my life. Grandmother’s jewellery bequeathed to Useless Girl in her dying will. She knew. She knew her daughter. Wily Mother calls with new words to balance out the dulled drum of the old. Thief and Repulsive underscore, and then overwrite Ungrateful. Girl.

Thief is for refusing to participate. At last. It’s for fighting for truth and for questioning. Golden Boys. Shiny stones. Misplaced inheritances. The same words You, Useless Girl. New words are Thief. You Stole Them. She smiles. And says You. Thief.

What was she thinking? How have we moved from pillows and sharp hands, from liar to thief? Has the count of penitence not been enough? Have not black bruises upon blue breaths upon wounding words been sufficient? Wounds and scars. The torn bleed of words on skin. The summation of the weight of that accidental original sin. Not enough? Thief Mother.

Proverbial straws come in the smallest of moments. So small that the enormity of them almost passes unseen. Years. Count them. Clowns on curtains and crochet cushions. Pale pink hands, and ragged rabbit ears, and waking in the night to the uneven syncopation of a young and tiny heart. Seals balance balls, and elephants wear ribbons, and rocking horses can become men that change shape in a certain light. And straws can break a woman’s back.

No contact. Patient Zero. Life below Zero. The end of the Zero Sum Game. New words to tattoo upon my skin. The Only Reasonable Numbers Are Zero, This One is Done. And For Infinity. Finally, silence. Though it is deep, and dark, and painful, too. Some are unforgiving. The Golden Boys incredulously angry. Miserable Mother. Accusing with words of theft, brings the biggest heist of them all. The Thief stole her favourite toy which was the Thief herself, and took it far, far away.

Words, and blood, and bruises, and she is the one who accuses?

Some people leave home towns to grow or to heal. I moved across seas, and wide stretches of land. I’m here. In an unfamiliar winter land. Nothing left. I gave it all away. Including hairbrushes, coat-hangers and sharp, pale nails. Ground Zero. Zero Point.

Zero, the concept, is both a placeholder and a symbol for nothing. Nothing. Ultimate integer, the absence of any quantity. Infinity. Z=Zero. (That break-even point.)

Plus One. I feel my pulse, know myself present. Plus Two, I dig deep, and take accountability for this. I watch from a small balcony and see a new city, and above it only sky. Plus Three, Four, Five and Counting, a sky growing more and more steady. Plus Ten through One Hundred. Fewer and fewer nose-dives in which I fight for breath and feel faint over the passage of years. And when I do plummet, shaky and sick, I get up again. Plus One Million. Breaths.

I wash my face, stroke along the unseen acid scars of tears over years and years, paint my mouth and smile.

Somedays my eyes disappear into a Galaxy of wrinkles that I’ll call laugh-lines because I will be kinder to myself. Others, my eyes don’t quite hide away. And Useless throbs along my thigh. Girl sears across the palm of my hand, scars of burned out stars wink pale on my breast and compete with X’d Love. And Grief thrashes a tumultuous neon in my heart.

Grief is a heartless bitch, the Mother of all Other Intentions. She will, if you let her, steal your breath away. But she must be suffered. For the sake of Entropy. Even pain ends. Keep breathing.

And by breathing I state my existence, and my living, and by believing in the energy of it, I will come to trace, gently, with the very tip of my finger new words across my skin. They will be the sum of me. All+Of+ME = Whole >The Sum of All the Parts.

sad poetry

Kerry Radloff

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