In Response to My Mother When She Says Hearing Me Read My Writing’s like Hearing God


In my world God is a crystalline superstructure, God
++++++is a molecular bond. God is the space, Mother,
between Fibonacci’s one and one. God is not my

++++++word for good days—it’s yours, and so “God”
really makes no appearance. Exiled from all my
++++++first drafts, my rationales: Mother,

I wasn’t sure how to tell you. And the truth is, Mother,
++++++that all those tiny prayers I whispered up to God
were just the grotesque stories of a sleepless child, my

++++++Sunday teachings warped to torture—Mother,
Ruth and Athalia fought to the death for God’s
++++++favor in my dreams, and neither won. When my

Sunday school teacher—Paul—went to jail for molesting my
++++++peers, when those five men in four years forgot all that their mothers
never taught them—in an alley, in a hallway, in a field out toward God

++++++knows where, right there in my bedroom, right there—tell me, why does God
let policemen fuck—yes, I say fuck now, Mother—
++++++those in custody? Mother, it is legal in 32 states, and my God,

South Carolina is one of them. No, make no mistake: when I speak, my
++++++words are mine. You can call it bitterness, vanity, but it is only proof of my
ability to care for myself—because when you were grieving, Mother,

++++++the type of pearl-clad woman I would never be, I tended
blotched, cancerous skin, a three-centimeter mass in my chest: God,
++++++what of that? What of what I have become? I had all the God

you’d given me, and I’ve sat in fourteen hospital chapels, God
++++++still a no-show. God is a no-show. God, as you call him, saw my
MRIs, blood counts, and said this, give her this, too, but why, God,

++++++do I feel that I should give thanks, stage communion with my
every effort—I can’t write around the rhythms, the mother
++++++tongue of the place I ran from. It’s just language—Mother,

this is where we meet. How could you hear me and not remember a mother’s
++++++covenant: I was born, then wouldn’t breathe for weeks. God heard and God
produced a debt: firstborn’s life against all odds. I am grateful, I’m grateful, Mother,

++++++it is just—they say the body remembers, and that must explain it. My
body must remember how to fight, pluck must linger in the blood, haunt my
++++++white counts. Yes, it must be the numbers. It has to be in the numbers. God

cannot be remission, the clear scan, a bell’s clang after my
++++++last treatment. God cannot be needle, drip bag, R-CHOP,
God cannot be the clot I throw, the fourteen God-forsaken

++++++calls I almost made from the waiting room, wanting
to tell you, Mother, this—which I will not read to you—
++++++I am sick again, and I am sorry. Mother,

I just wasn’t sure how to say it.

Victoria Flanagan

—1st Place Winner of the Emerging Poet Prize and $3000—

Victoria C. Flanagan holds a dual-genre MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was a Claudia Emerson Memorial fellow, a Carole M. Weinstein fellow, and where she served as managing editor of Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts. Her writing has been awarded the Catherine and Joan Byrne Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the 2017 Thomas B. Gay Graduate Poetry Award, and a Sewanee Writers’ Conference scholarship, among other honors. Flanagan’s work has appeared most recently in The Academy of American Poets, Beloit Poetry Journal, and RHINO. She currently serves as Poetry and Nonfiction reviews editor of Blackbird, where her reviews appear regularly. She teaches writing in central Washington.