There are Things I Don’t Say Aloud

My mother thought she was dying once, & it’s the reason
I know how to write checks. I must have been twelve,
thirteen, when she taught me how to forge her signature,
how to read a paper bill, she figured we’d have to go on
without her so someone needed to know how to do these
things. I was the eldest, the daughter, it only made sense
I guess. I wonder often if she was scared but, like me,
my mother has spent a lot of time thinking about her death.

She once asked me if I’d be able to speak at her funeral,
a leading kind of question as if trying to see how sad
I would say I’d be, if I’d be contained enough to weave
together words, I was nineteen when she asked me that,
& I remember thinking, the last thing I want to do, is imagine
your death.

She tells me, for the longest time, even after my brothers
were born, were grown, me & my father were the only
benefactors listed on her life insurance policy, that if she
were to die, we’d get everything, him & I, that if she were
to die we’d get more money than if my father were to die.
We were on our way to a funeral when she gave me the numbers
& I sat, quiet, listening, wondering what I’d do with money
if I had no mother.

As I’ve gotten older, she & my father have tiptoed around
the presence of suicide, a period of time, once, maybe
twice, where she was consumed by a weight so unbearable
she must have wanted to die & sometimes I want to say
to her, I know, I know what it is to be heavy & sometimes
I try, in other ways, to say it, but I know I cannot save
my mother, just as much as she cannot save me, no matter
how mirror-like we are to one another, some secrets stay secrets.
Stay shame. As if the fear of speaking them aloud would rain
hellfire on us both, or worse, would make us see one another
entirely as we are & is that not both one’s greater fear & wildest
hope? To be seen?

Jessica Nirvana Ram is an Indo-Guyanese poet and essayist. She is the 2022-23 Stadler Fellow in Literary Arts Administration. Jessica completed her MFA at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and received her BA from Susquehanna University. Her work–about inheritance, expectations, and radical self love–appears in Hayden’s Ferry Review, HAD, and Honey Literary, among others. Find her @jessnirvanapoet on Twitter.

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