Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

My Mother, Fetching a Switch

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

My Mother, Fetching a Switch

Article excerpt

By now she knows that just because it's thin

doesn't mean it won't hurt, that green is better

than dead & dried. She needs to choose

between the hot sting of a wasp, or a dull

deep ache that lasts for days, bruises the color

of certain pears when they ripen. There are the canes

of bigleaf maple, willow, alder, the straight suckers

from apple or plum in the orchard. She knows to peel

bark from the wand & shave the nodes flush

to the stem with whatever knife she's given

from pocket or kitchen drawer. Her first switch

left her bloody, then a web of tiny white scars fine

as lace in the doilies her sisters sometimes helped her

make. Once she brought her father a long whip

of pussy willow with the soft toes of catkins

left on. He laughed so hard he let her off. A second try

made him madder. Once she split a thin strip of cedar

from a shake bolt, lighter than lath; her mother used the edge

like aduli blade. She knows to lift her dress waist

high, overalls unsnapped & dropped

to her ankles. Her father likes her

folded across a single knee & only strikes

the cheeks of her fanny. Her mother takes her

standing, feet apart, & whales at any skin

she sees: calves, her inner thighs. …

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