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An ESME Poetry Showcase Award submission



I watched my mother die.

I watched my mother watch her

mother die and before that I

watched my grandmother watch

her mother die.


Big Mama said

Hurt people hurt people.

She wadded and rolled the

idea around in between her

tongue and cheek and

teeth before she spit out

the words like the tobacco

she chewed. When Granny

was a girl with an iron

face and ashy knees

Big Mama taught her

women’s work—

to cook, to launder,

to push his children

from her 15-year-old

womb and ask for nothing

in return, to shell peas until

her fingertips purpled,

to make macaroni and

cheese by tunneling

a hole into steaming

pasta and pouring into

it a mixture of flour,

milk, salt, pepper,

faint remembrances

of his overworked fist

in her left eye, a secret

prayer for the babies

(especially the girls),

a sour recollection

of the misses commenting

on the remarkable

cleanliness of her kids.

Granny never forgot.


More than anything

I remember the taut,

tanned skin of their

foreheads below my

pressed lips. Somehow,

sleep becomes a woman

after a life of selfless labor—

lifting loads intended

for the backs of men,

soldiering quiet through

eras and movements and

hurricanes like untasted

honey in misplaced hives.

Kristie Robin Johnson is a native of Augusta, Georgia. She is currently a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. Her work has appeared in and/or is forthcoming in Rigorous literary magazine, Atlanta Free Speech, and other publications.

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