Rachel Hertzberg’s “Sorry” examines the often tumultuous patches of the relationship between Mother and child. Far from simple, this poem explores many familiar feelings and evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and sympathy.
You come from transient men.
Men who join the priesthood without warning
and run away to Florida and sell houses that weren’t theirs
but you come from women who are solid.
Women who fold their arms and
stare at you like Washington stared at the Delaware
like you are just something to be crossed
women you don’t talk back to
who stop at the grocery store after a funeral
who sew their own clothes and
keep leftovers for months to be stewed on some anxious winter evening
Women who tell you who you are
leaving you with the feeling
that you did something wrong.
All the recanting in the world
could not repent for the sin
of trying to correct them.
You are starting to look like your mother
Your features are carved by the same hand
Your nose is the same bridge; your eyes are the same river
Your fingers are the same half-closed drawbridges.
One day she notices your shorn hair
and your bare eyes and she says
Are you trying to turn yourself into a boy?
She says you have grown sullen, rebellious, dishonest.
But she does not see how the bones of your face
have grown strong as her own.
All of your apologies are backward glances
they are checking for monsters in the dark
they are stockpiling canned corn
they are knitting a suit of armor out of steel wool
they are whispering in the darkness
your voice trembles, a fawn that does not know how to return to the forest
I will write down all your apologies
inscribe them in ebony ink and encircle them in gold leaf
bind them with red leather and velvet.
I’ll deliver them by hand to your mother’s feet,
so that she will know how you love her.