I Was There When He Died; This Time; This is Not a Love Story
By: C. Eliot Mullins
I was there when he died
smoothing thinned hair against his spotted scalp
He could not speak
by then. They say lung cancer
is like drowning
in your own body
He would blink
furiously, I would pat his hand
and tell him it would be ok
He settled when I pulled my sister’s face close
and said we will be ok
He was the bearer of kittens
and handkerchiefs, dolls at Christmas
runny-yolk eggs stirred into gravy
on Saturday mornings
Sunday was for church
but he wouldn’t go
For two decades, full-grown, I would come
He lingered far longer
than was prudent
for a two-pack-a-day filterless Camel kind of man
I won’t tell you how he held me down
how I would wake
nightgown on the floor
drenched in shame
his breath sticky on my face
his “shhh” obscene
Who would I tell?
I was bereft
when he turned his attention
to other prepubescents
though I was a late bloomer
my legs eventually too long
my words too wordy
The runny yolks remained
I gagged them down
relegated to the kitchen
rolling out biscuits
scrubbing cast iron
A slap to the cheek
when I asked if it was a sin
to feed chicken bones
to the hens.
He promises you new red panties if you don’t cry.
Did someone touch you down there?
Shake your head no.
There are solutions for all of life’s problems.
It burns when you pee/don’t pee.
It’s a secret/keep it.
It happens only at night/don’t go to sleep.
It happens only in the day/forget it.
Mommy doesn’t want to know/don’t make her.
Don’t wait for it to be taken/give it away.
Your doll to the boy with the axe.
Your cat to the boy on the bridge.
Lay down before he pushes you.
Leave before you are sent away.
Pull up your dress as an offering/take what you can.
This time, I want blue ones.
This is not a love story
It’s not a fairy tale
I could say there is no happy ending
but I don’t know yet
This is not girl meets girl
There is no hero
There is armor, though
And swords for words
There is shame and
Lots of kissing
And sex for days
And not for days
There is no rainbow-themed
No handwritten vows
There is no clean time
No 24-hour chip
No sober anniversary
There is fragile
And how could you do this to me?
There is personal space the size of a gymnasium
where high school basketball is played
There is love
And the opposite of love
And I can’t do this anymore
There is a story
The moral does not change
I am not your keeper, I scream
while keeping you.
C. Eliot Mullins (she/her) is an educator, therapist, friend of cats, lifelong Pacific Northwesterner, extreme introvert, and an increasingly fearless lesbian poet. She is a poetry student in the creative writing program at the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. Her work has appeared in Lavender Review (Dec. 2021) and the 2022 anthology Interconnectedness.
Interview With the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
C. Eliot Mullins:
I’ve written poetry sporadically since childhood, with breaks from writing that sometimes lasted years. I started writing consistently in my late 40s.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
As a child, I loved Shel Silverstein. My favorite poem was Reflection. I was always uncomfortable in my own skin, and poetry opened the door to a different way of interpreting the world that made sense to me.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I have so many favorite poets and poems. I love the work of Warsan Shire, in particularly the poems Home and Sara. A few others that I adore –
Lucille Clifton – the lost baby poem
Jennifer Militello – Criminal How-To
Analicia Sotelo – A Little Charm
Kaveh Akbar - Orchids are Sprouting from the Floorboards
Mary Oliver – The Journey
James Wright – Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
I set Tuesdays and half of Friday aside for poetry. But really, poetry appears when it appears. So, sometimes those identified times are spent taking the rough beginnings I’ve jotted down on a scrap of paper or in the notes on my phone, and letting them develop. Sometimes I pace. I have poetry face, which my wife describes as a faraway look, while squinting and looking like I’m about to say something.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
For me, form emerges after the words are on paper (or the screen). After there is a solid chunk of words, either I can see a form that makes sense or I start experimenting with form. The poem leads; I follow.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Just write. Writing is not a commitment to sharing your writing. Whatever comes to mind, just write it. Without thinking about how others will read it, if they will like it, if they will understand it, if they will be hurt by it. Without fearing it is too exposing, too weird, too common, too not enough. Those things get dealt with in editing or therapy. To begin, just write.
What is your editing process like?
I know where some on my weaknesses lie – telling rather than showing, unnecessary words, leaving too much in my head so that the poem is hard to follow, line breaks that I think are fun but are actually awkward. So, I look for those things. I also share my work with others and get feedback. For the past couple of years, I’ve taken poetry classes pretty consistently. I did a poetry mentorship last year at The Writing Salon, and I’m currently a poetry student in the Writer’s Studio creative writing certificate program at Simon Fraser University. We workshop our poems and get instructor feedback. So many online opportunities have emerged for writing classes and community. It’s really wonderful. I’ve connected with some amazing new and emerging poets. I also read my poems to my wife, who is not a poet but has an ear for poetry and understands my poetry aesthetic. She knows me well enough to point out things like when I don’t go for the jugular, when a poem is pointing in that direction. Then I get to think about why – is that a choice that makes sense for the poem or am I operating from fear or lack of confidence in my writing skill?
When do you know that a poem is finished?
That’s such a great question. When I find I’m being incredibly perfectionistic, for example repeatedly changing the to a and then changing it back again. Or sometimes a poem just feels complete. However, I will say that I have at times, much later, gone back and edited poems that had felt finished. So, I might not have a solid answer to this question.