3 Portraits of My Mother by Dani Janae

Illustration of back of a woman staring at a boarded up house

Portrait of My Mother as Zombie Outbreak

When the apocalypse came 
I hitched my bones to catastrophe, 
I became a monster of hunger. 

My mother, who has answered longing 
with descent, sinks her jaw into 
my neck, her blood animates my 

limbs. The wound a site of second death, 
second living. And what she ate of me 
was good. What I ate of others was 

good. I marched sidelong and tremble 
to the flesh resurrected by want. 
My mother is beauty and terror, 

the kind of beauty to strike you awed,
slack-jawed and glistening, 
the pillar of her body struck by sway. 

What we mine of love is its shimmer
the quickening of the heart, cheeks
turned to blush. An obsession that wells

like bromeliad. My teeth grown long 
with ache. Love took me strange, 
the rushing blood hum lurching from

the skin turned silent; brown skin 
turned the color of mourning, the 
scent turned animal. 

I have listened to a god’s death. 
When the apocalypse came I did not 
refuse it, I married it with my 

eyes, let the world be cloaked 
in red. Come impenetrable ache, come 
skin so soft it does not break. 

Come bullet or hacksaw. What
ever had been destroyed in me grew 
a mouth. The mouth gnashed and spit

cried “mother, mother.”
The sound of my own voice burdens 
me. I give in to a new breath, a tongue

that lashes. My mother’s curses
they feed like wolves, beast me, 
eat like hungry is a language. 

Portrait of My Mother as Vengeful Spirit

Lately, all my silvers quake. 
The forks and knives thunder, beg the drawer.
I press my ear to the wall to sort out my 
mother’s living, her beyond life, the slip that
separates a shadow from the dark. On her 
breath is the scent of rust, where water meets
its cousin. A breeze turns itself over 
the hairs on my neck. In the house of my body
my fillings turn to dust, I grind 
my good teeth to a pulsating ache. 
My mother flung open the doors, guided
the light toward something she wants me to 
see. I am doubled over with the rushing of 
my heartbeat, the acute sense of what happened 
to her. Yes, I do believe in what haunts us.
Thin fibers of her universe get caught in my hair. 
Black urn of flies meddle the windows glass, 
their buzzing devours the silence from pause 
to break. As my mother’s child, I have inherited 
her yawning pain, the river of her catches in my 
veins. What can be said about the walls? 
They have seen the worst of us, have carried
her secrets in the corners and the crawl. 
The wallpaper wets itself, rots full. 

Portrait of My Mother as Call Coming From Inside the House

My mother is on the line like a catfish
— all mouth. Her breathing is belabored,
cinching. Her threats are animal, 
she is going to bury me, oh, bury me. 

The cord is wrapped tight around my 
finger, blue as a dying man, my blood
hot and crashing with cells, my eyes
darting the room. These twisting

messages. So goes the threat. 
My mother, my mother banging about
in my ears, causing the body to seize 
like a damned river. 

These burdens to carry, this bloodline.
I pray for my life but cannot, cannot
leave the house. Here is my mother
so vivid I can feel the haze of breath 

against my earlobe, her prophecies
divine, feral. Her crude magic sends 
me to the heart of the house, to its 
ancient and moaning dark. 

What wants to kill me comes every 
day, faithfully, like the dance of a watch.
Blood in its nails, the drip of a laugh
lacquers its dozened teeth. 

It is only when I think I am 
safe that there is a door. 
A breath hemmed against the window
wetting the glass with its warning. 

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Dani Janae is a poet living and writing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from Allegheny College and returned home to Pittsburgh after graduating. Her poetry deals with the physical and emotional legacy of trauma, and the intersecting history of her identity as a black, lesbian, woman through themes of the grotesque, incantations, and folklore. Her work has been published by Argot Magazine, Public Source, Palette Poetry, and Slush Pile Magazine. She is a contributing writer at Autostraddle.

Nicole Rifkin is a Canadian American Illustrator. See more work at nicolerifkin.com.