National Poetry Month 2023: Day 26

I always love to feature work from Taylor Byas, an absolutely excellent voice in the poetry world. This is a poet to keep an eye out for: her work is great, and she has such a way with formal verse, even centuries-old forms, that brings it very much into the present moment. Case in point, this adept sestina.

Drunken Monologue From An Alcoholic Father’s Oldest Daughter

My friends say I should have been a therapist and it ain’t funny
no more. I ain’t seen a dollar of pay for this labor, all my pretending—
who do I see about my check? My father says I just need somebody
to talk to when he calls. He’s sitting in our house alone
looking at old pictures and drinking. I still love my wife, I still love
my wife. And if I answer the phone, I gotta be the mother

he missed out on as a kid. I pick up and I gotta turn on a mother’s
softness. But I ain’t gave birth to nothing. Never felt that funny
feeling of my second self latching on to the first. How do you love
something that looks right through you? You gotta pretend,
act like you understand. My father says I spent Christmas alone
for the first time in my life and man I swear somebody

needs to give me an Oscar for the way I sounded like somebody’s
momma. Said God gon’ work it out. But I know my mother
did the right thing. Left him. My brother and sister were alone
with him for hours while she was gone, and I, you know, I just felt funny
about it. And the way my father would call me pretending
he was the victim when I knew what it really was. Maybe we all loved

the chaos a little bit, having a place to put the blame. Maybe I loved
the way they needed me. But I ain’t love the pressure. Somebody
told me that I was the glue that held it all together. Now I gotta pretend
that’s a compliment, I gotta “ha-ha” and “he-he” when they call me “mother
2.0.” I laugh and say I don’t even need kids anymore but what’s so funny
about that, a hatred that spreads to the womb? I’ve had a lot of alone

time to wonder about the choices my father makes. Being alone
over rehab, over family. Sometimes I say that motherfucker don’t love
me to myself in the mirror real tough. And I keep saying it until it’s funny,
until I’m laughing and then I’m crying and then I sound like somebody
dying when I start coughing from both. Sometimes I ask my mother
what happened to him and she just says it’s sad. Most times, I pretend

I feel the same and I “mhm” on the phone but this time I can’t pretend
no more. I say momma I know you feel bad for leaving him alone
but it was the right thing to do. I say you did what any mother
would have done. I say the kids know you did it out of love,
to protect them. She silent, so I say momma he could have killed somebody
and she says hardy-har-har, real funny. But just how funny

if we ain’t laughing? I want to say something in the silence, something funny,
but I know my mother wants to be left alone when she pretends
to yawn. So I tell her I love her. And I don’t remember who hangs up. Somebody.

This poem originally appeared in Soft Punk Magazine.


Dr. Taylor Byas, Ph.D. (she/her) is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is currently a Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, an Associate Editor for The Cincinnati Review, an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus, and a Poetry Acquisitions Editor for Variant Literature. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Literature, a second chapbook, Shutter, from Madhouse Press, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in August of 2023. She is also a co-editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol X: Alabama, forthcoming from Texas Review Press, and of Poemhood: Our Black Revival, a YA anthology on Black folklore from HarperCollins. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.

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