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Kari Gunter-Seymour: Conflagration

You wake one morning to see a family member

reflected in your face, a turn of lip, a twitch,

a trick to make what’s absent present.

Younger, I thought I saw my grandmother’s

pluck inside my eyes. I adopted her cackle,

love of heifers and cornbread. Her orneriness

came slippery even on ordinary days.


My mother’s eyes were green,

mine are not, as if the biology of color

could be an explanation for our rifts.

But my brow is like hers now, flat,

grim, more pensive, where once

mine had a playful upward arch.


The best photo I have of my mom

is as a toddler, standing in a barnyard.

Coal-black hair, eyes locked

on the camera’s lens, mended cotton

dress and ankle socks, shoes caked

in mud and pig shit, her left arm

draped around a Bluetick’s neck,

her face already showing signs

of how worry affected her.


She did try to be my mama,

but always seemed to make choices

that were not so much decision

as the least worse option.

She would go thin, sleep a lot.

Then came the drugs.

It took me years to soften

the edges of my bitterness.


A few months before she passed,

I took her driving along the rural roads

where she was raised. I hoped returning

would spark memories, fill her with light,

the way the heat of day warms the bones.


Instead, she bucked and scratched,

straining the seat belt, eyes like a rabid hound,

words like matchsticks struck along the dashboard.

My broken brow quivered in the rearview,

her howls crawled the air like fire.

Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio.

From A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen by Kari Gunter-Seymour (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2020).

4 comments on “Kari Gunter-Seymour: Conflagration

  1. Lisa Zimmerman
    November 12, 2021

    A hard poem. Painful. And so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    November 12, 2021

    Oh the mother daughter relationship. The pain together. The pain apart. And the too late attempt to mend. A wonder poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim Davis
    November 12, 2021

    Oh, that mother / daughter stuff. It is so hard to forgive these women in our lives who weren’t good at raising us. I keep working on this issue myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rose Mary Boehm
    November 12, 2021

    What a wonderful poet you are. This poem is not beautifully crafted but painful, loving, and forgiving. I think many of us ‘out here’ identify in one way or another

    Liked by 1 person

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