My mother and I sit at a hotel café.
Neither of us touch the tea or panini,
we stare at the gold-trimmed walls,
baroque chairs, faux marble pillars.
We’ve cheated hours nudging queens,
pawns and towers through another
chemotherapy round. I have held her
hairless and vomiting. Promise
you’ll move back home to help me, she says.
I remember the times she locked
me in my room, or her hand bruising
my cheeks, until at eight years old I raised
my palm to crack the porcelain of her face.
Remember she told me to leave home
at fourteen and the promise I made to myself:
I’d root as far from her as I could.
The bread toughens and the tea’s cold,
steeping bitter. I don’t think I can, I reply,
as we sit across each other in a room
filled with reproductions.
The hostel was next to the cemetery,
its garden rotten with aftershave
where he trawled through
the foreign girls.
Bois de Boulogne was in season,
I wore my green shoes,
walked along the necropolis
with his hand caressing my neck.
His eyes were a grey bog.
He led me to Bashkirtseff ’s tomb,
gave me a shot of tequila,
my last cigarette.
He reeled me into the woods.
I dragged on my heels, thrashed
in his hands, slipped away
with a hook in my lip.
Run, he said, run and I ran
barefoot and splintered
over the snakeroots.
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