you misunderstood:



mallory langen



you misunderstood:


you wondered why mom never her mom mom

it was Sylvia or Grama Sylvia or

    a solemn subtly exasperated: my mother


       solemn like that first cold of the season that

         reminds you what winter is and that worse is coming


                       screaming meant anger, coldness. silence tranquility

                                            you misunderstood


when Sylvia slapped mom’s face

           a silent reaction



you thought of what you heard on the phone

            you misunderstood

                                                                                                       when Sylvia called mom

                                                                                          they scream, you see mom’s neck redden

                                                                              vessels become larger, her voice becomes

                                                                                           a small bird in agony

                                                                                      loud screeches but small

                                                                                unheard by those who matter


screaming rage silence serenity

           you misunderstood


                                       when mom told you Sylvia dragged her downstairs by her hair

                                                                              thud thud thud

                                                                                               blond tendrils in a clenched fist

                                                                                          yanking her head by

                                                                            delicate threads



                                                     you thought of Sylvia hugging you

                                   all you understood was





a wailing child, face red and plastered with salty tears

      small mom, you’d seen photos of her as a child

             platinum blond hair, thin and wispy, you

                    thought of her tugged scalp, straining skin


                                                                                       but wait

                                                                                                  Sylvia made hot chocolate for you

                                                                                                             melting cheap chocolate bars

                                                                                                    in the microwave, cups buzzing

                                                                                      in her trashed kitchen


                                                    she fed wonderbread to the seagulls with you

                                                     made scrambled eggs


another screaming phone fight

mom got slapped

you couldn’t understand