Getting Older by Sarah Kay

Whenever I hurt myself

My mother says it is the universe’s way of telling me to slow down.

She also tells me to put some coconut oil on it.

It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is.

She often hides stones underneath my pillow when I come home for the weekend.

The stones are a formula for sweet dreams and clarity.

I dig them out from the sheets, 

She tells me what each one is for.

My throat hurts.

So she grinds black pepper into a spoonful of honey, makes me eat the entire thing.

My mother knows how to tie knots like a ship captain

But doesn’t know how I got that sailors mouth.

She falls asleep in front of the TV

Only until I turn it off.

Shouts, “I was watching that!”

The sourdough she bakes on Friday’s is older than I am.

She sneaks it back and forth across the country when she flies

By putting the starter in small containers next to a bag of carrots.

“They think it’s ranch dressing.” she giggles.

She makes tea by hand.

Nettles, slippery elm, tumeric, cinnamon.

My mother is a recipe for warm throats and belly laughs.

Once she fell off of a ladder when I was three.

She says all she worried about was my face as I watched her fall.

Listen to Sarah Kay’s poem “Getting Older” and a conversation about craft with Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz as featured on the podcast “Live from the Amy Clampitt House” for the Indiefeed Poetry Podcast here.

Mother by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

When I told my mother

I wanted to be a veterinarian

when I grew up, she told me

that vets kill puppies and kittens

and stick needles into horses

and bunnies with cancer.

When I told my mother

I wanted to be a zoo-keeper

when I grew up, she told me

that animals in captivity

are still wild animals, and hence

could attack even the friendliest

of caretakers, usually tearing them

to shreds and eating their remains.

You see, my mum and I

had a lot of time to talk

about these things: I was the last

of the Aptowicz brood.

Always too young and too small

to go on the backpacking trips

and nature hikes that formed

my brother and sister: the scientists.

Mum never liked my career choices much,

but I knew I was on the right track

when one day, over a bowl of alphabet soup,

I asked her:

Hey Mum,

how come there are such things 

as bad words?

And she said:

Honey,

there is no such things

as a “bad word.”

Only words that aren’t 

appropriate for all situations.

For instance,

you should never say

the word “shit”

in front of a nun.

You see, she gave me that:

she gave me the gift of words;

she gave me the power of words,

and I never considered it a privilege.

But my mum grew up in a time

when words were being redefined,

words like gender, power, class,

and revolution.

So though she was top of her class,

editor of the school literary magazine,

editor of the school newspaper,

the National Merit Scholar with

the three-newspaper-a-day habit,

she still had to hear them tell her:

The scholarship

is not going to be for English

If you want to go to college at all,

it’s going to have to be for science.

So my mother, the biologist,

met my father, the chemical engineer,

and together they produced three beautiful kids,

one of which my mum would make sure

wouldn’t feel the burn she was forced to feel.

People always ask me

why I make such a big deal

correcting them, saying:

No, it’s not

Cristin Aptowicz.

It’s Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.

It’s just one word, they say,

it shouldn’t make that much difference.

But I know the differences words make.

It is a gift my mother gave me.

And I honour her

every time I put pen to paper,

every time I put word to lip,

and every time I sign my name,

My mother says she’d never trade

any of us kids in for a novel, or

a job at the New York Times,

though the way we behave sometimes,

she says she’d consider it.

But I know she’s only joking,

because I have never seen her

look so proud, or smile so bright,

as when I finally told her

what I wanted to do,

and she said:

You know what, honey?

I think

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

is the perfect name

for a writer.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   

I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.

I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.