Happy Birthday, Grandmother

by Stephanie Ambroise


Today is my grandmother’s birthday.
saw my mother hidden in both of your cheeks,
in a photograph soft press printed into my hippocampus:

you leaf, delicately stuffed behind plastic film
in a plush pink scrapbook.
a fiery brown­red leaf, scripted, dead,
unstable, detonated
after too much
lifetime stoppered.

Today is my grandmother’s birthday
what do you think of birthdays, grandmother?
are they warm chocolate days,
are they face burrowed into breast days,
are they cold days, the abysmally empty space
between your arm days?

What do you think of birthdays, grandmother?
Are they all countdown days between today
and when the ceiling between your standing legs,
in pain, crawled up to the base of your spine?
When relief was another human’s breath?
Grandmother, don’t lie. I see my mother’s
efforts to crawl out from between your two lips,
pressed together. Your face is a fistful
of secrets.

Today is your birthday, grandmother,
and what crowd of relatives crowns you today?
Who collects to give birth to you again?
Oh, I bet you hate today, grandmother. She
hates today grandmother, hates her day
because you hate her, day, grandmother
me hates you, her grandmother,
you hate me, grandmother.

Remember the time you thought I hated
you, grandmother? Remember the time you thought
I hated you because you thought I thought
you were ugly? You look like my mother.
At one point, I thought I was ugly. I thought
I was ugly because my father was a secret
in my face, and my mother was a secret in my face,
and I was supposed to be hidden.
Not hidden like Pandora’s Hope, not hidden like birthday gifts,
hidden like shhh,
hidden like shhh,
hidden like shhh
ame.

Today is your birthday, grandmother,
you birthed your daughter away, grandmother,
you shamed your daughter away, grandmother,
you gave your daughter away, grandmother,
grandmother, you think you’re ugly,
grandmother, i think i’m pretty,
grandmother, secrets are ugly,
grandmother, secrets are ugly,
grandmother, secrets are ugly,
grandmother, grandmother,
grandmother

Today, I reflect on the word secret,
flabbergasted, seeing myself so clearly
in these murky waters, secret. Notice
every rippling on these dirty waters, secret.
My mother, every present in my face,
fill these brown­red waters,
secret.

We are all so pretty,
so clearly pretty.

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