Poetry contest

2021 Foley Poetry Contest Winner: “Raising Mothers”

This morning it came undone in my arthritic fingers
in the form of an easy to tear perforation on the milk carton,
it was a very small kind of mother, smaller than the mother
I encountered in myself, waiving late fees while working at the library
when the nursing student in her final week eats Oreos
for dinner came to beg, no fret, I said, my dull register
compared to the mother I found in deliberate banter
the horse-toothed guy in 12B on LHR-BOM engaged me in
to distract me from the pain, the cramps that wrap around under my knees,
every nerve sharp as teeth – crushing a prayer
for prednisone to inaugurate, the pill also a mother, dissolving
my invisible pains like the grace that I trace in the whites
Between my friend’s fingers, chopping nuts, cooking me
aji da gallina, season the chicken with mother-
like the precision, the feeling that she knows I’ve been for a long time
without a mother herself a mother for me, a virgin mary in gold
on his pointer, how he gave birth to rainbows in the sun
women’s clinic as we waited for her to get an IUD, an option
our mothers might disapprove, and this option
also, a kind of mother. And the ghost of my own mother
my father conjures pointing to the corner table in Kailash Parbat,
a restaurant near a barn where they first met, sipping
filtered coffee in the midst of cattle moans, chaperones at arm’s length
and it’s hard not to have fun when my father, now motherless
and without a wife, having brought doctors and priests to the two wives
in vain still finds in him to be a mother to himself
smiles, he whistles while combing his bald head before going to bed,
ask him why and he’ll tell you What if Julia Roberts came
in my dreams tonight
, what is being a mother if not suspending
Lunar faith in the face of a stubborn night like the milky
simplicity with which my mother-in-law confided in me
while shelling the peas—your father, he hit me—his confession
not only because it is a transfer of trust but also
a repeat of history, making her no longer my mother
that I allowed her to be – she, that I thought was a linear erase
of my only mother, now related to my mother, the two sharing a skin-
memory, look, how she dangles her feet in front of the sewing machine,
alter a cashmere dress for me, said, Try it now. And I try
mother, for you to come back to me, in flesh and breath,
to keep you alive.

“Raising Mothers” by Preeti Vangani was selected ohut of over 1,200 entries in this year’s Foley Poetry competition. The three finalist poems, to appear in the next issues of America, are “Baby Mania”, by Taylor Byas, P.OT.S. Prayer”, by Jessica Jacobs and “A Message After the Beep”, by Susan Vickerman. Special thanks to Brendan Walsh, the winner of the 2020 contest, and Joseph A. O’Hare’s colleague, Erika Rasmussen, for serving with me as judges.

– Joe Hoover, SJ, poetry editor