‘Before My Mother Naked’ and other poems by Bernadette Ulsamer

Before My Mother Naked

I am showing off,
at 9 months pregnant,
how round I am,
how my belly button
is now a knot of skin.
She feels for the hardness in my stomach,
she rubs at the red marks,
the heel of her hand kneads
down my spine, presses firm
into the strain of my lower back.
I remember leaning against
her warm full breasts, her thin legs,
her dark hair when we would take a bath together,
sing-songing made up rhymes
until our fingertips raisined.
I am the split-tailed fish
from her body,
and now, I too have
an ocean inside.
Originally published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review vol 10 issue 3

He Crumbles Old Newspapers for Kindling

We roast hot dogs bought at Rock Run
the country store at the base of the mountain.
My ’95 Buick Century almost didn’t make it up.
We got stuck twice in rutted mud.
I know how to set up a tent,
but not start a fire. We smoke up
before cooking the dogs, drink whiskey
stolen from my mother.
We’re here to get a little high,
drunk and fuck on sleeping bags
that smell like his attic.
We watch the fire, no need to talk.
I sleep in his fleece,
reeking of pot and charcoal.
In the morning I open a jug of water,
wash my hands, face, and crotch
then douse the fire pit
with what’s leftover.
Originally published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review vol 10 issue 3

Funeral On Nippenose Mountain

Walking the hillside from church
instead of riding with Charles M. Knoll & Sons,
my black stilettos half an inch deep in wet grass,
almost mud from morning rain.
The November sky is still overcast, clouds shade
the gravesite chairs, only enough for immediate family
who bring up the end of the procession, pass the old grotto—
Mary Our Mother of Sorrows.
Hunters’ trucks carrying buck carcasses in the bed, slow down
for the road’s trail of grey overcoats.
My heels fully sink in the ground
as Father Mano begins the Lord’s Prayer.
Wearing rubber shoe covers over his priest loafers,
he leads us to the amen.
Originally published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review vol 10 issue 3

The Water Rose to the Underbelly of Slabtown Bridge

Gasoline floated on top of the flood
and telephone poles bowed down
like deer drinking from a stream.
With all the street signs washed away
I feel the turn to take for church
though the divider line
now veers off into a wider river.
In this new valley of mud coffins stick out
from the slice of a new hillside
once familiar as a groove in a stone
as if I were 16 again,
worn deeper each year
out to prove I wasn’t ugly or awkward
on a boy and a can of beer.
Originally published in Voices from the Attic volume 20

Telling My In-Laws I’m Pregnant

His mother hugs her body hard against mine,
and my breasts—so tender and heavy—
feel every pound of her pressing in.
She tells me of the maternity dresses she sewed
from simple patterns with the seam stitched over the belly—
everyone watches how much I eat.
I used to picture my inside self like the model uterus
—clear plastic ovaries and fallopian tubes from 10th grade health—
Mr. Foote with his laser pen tracing the path of the egg.
If I could unzip myself, I thought
I’d see everything clearly,
imagined a vast transparency in my body—
a rounded, plastic, squeaky cave.
In first trimester ultrasound photos
it’s just a scratchy white speck
in a pool of black, BABY printed in block letters.
An arrow points toward this blob
suspended in wet darkness.
Originally published in Pittsburgh Poetry Review Issue 4
Before My Mother Naked and other poems are © Bernadette Ulsamer

This Unclean Spring 

Wet snowfall in March—robins on a head trip:

shrub, to branch

to power wires

	—PEEK!! tut tut tut tut—

picking up bits of coarse grass, twigs, paper.

		—seeech each-each-each—

More grey than reddish-orange breasts
(last summer’s freckles). 

	These first robins dredge

	half frozen ground, search 

	for beetle grubs and caterpillars, 
			smeared mud.    

Even with winter boots standing ready by the front door, 

I use the weather as an excuse to avoid people.

		Spots of green sprouted early despite the cold,

				shudder in the wet wind.  
					(this unclean spring)—

Originally published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review vol 10 issue 3

Bernadette Ulsamer earned an MFA from Carlow University where she is a member of Madwomen in the Attic. She is the author of the chapbook Trestling published by Flutter Press. Her poetry has appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper, Cossack Literary Journal, Roar Magazine, The Broken Plate, Meat For Tea: The Valley Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and has been anthologized in Voices from the Attic, and Along These. Her poem “ICU, Holy Thursday” was long-listed for the International Fish Poetry Prize 2013.
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