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Mark’s Tumor (When I Needed it Most)

“How quickly this life does go by.” Tonight
I wrote the last letters
to my poetry students. It’s always been hard,
dishing out compliments (unless I really,
really mean it). My mother died
halfway through the class, a term
dedicated to confession and yoking
sadness from fingertips. Tell me
your best sad secret. Write the love
letter you never sent, the one that hissed
a papercut into your flagina so you took it
as an omen. How do I rank choice
of line breaks and liberties
with pantoums while my mother burns
at 1,800 degrees? Tell the octogenarian
that his piece on alpaca butter is shit
or the Iowa dropout I should be the one
at his feet? You don’t, but the dead

are furtive messengers. The banker
sent it privately, a poem he’d been too shy
or wise to workshop
into neat numbness. He likened
his tumor to a peach beyond burst,
skin sloughing off like summer tans — and us,
our ridiculous grasping
of it all when in the end, “How quickly,

how quickly this life does go by.”



My Mother(’s) Remains

Do you want to go to the Bahamas? I opened
my mother’s ashes and was taken
by the color. Somehow, I thought she’d be slate
but she was like Florida,

coarse and tawny. What remains
is heavier than you’d think, full
of bones and grit. The weight
tugs you down. As I spooned
her into the little glass
jar, I remembered being six,

my aunt packed tight
in a cardboard urn while the lot
of us boarded a shaky propeller
plane. The pilot never said
to hold it low, let the wind
lap what’s left — she swarmed
us like wild things, left a thick
coating and we licked her chars
from philtrums. Brackish and dry, she shot
to our innards, became a burrowing,

permanent part of us all. I thought,

I don’t want my mother
to stay. Haunt my organs,
blow like smoke through dreams. How long
can someone stick
to the familiar? Cling scared
to all we hate? Like the gold
beggar children in Mexico, I brushed
her from my skirt and held my breath
against her dust. Maybe,
if I sprinkle her in the turquoise
of the tropics, salt the rim
a little more, she’ll finally
(after so, so many years) release
those bitten nails and let me go.




I packed my mom in Tupperware
from the dollar store. She always wanted
to go to the Bahamas, even before
she’d gone to sand — before her bones
could be mistaken for broken
shells. I don’t know if it’s bad
to divide ashes, leave a slice
of femur in the Caribbean foam,
a chip of coccyx in Oregon waterfalls
gushing like overdue orgasms.
How does a person want to be
after our skin’s burned to crisps,
the only organ capable
of holding all our worst messes
together? She never said but I felt
her wailing through my insides
demanding turquoise waters, a cleanse,
a starting over. But then again,
who’s surprised? She was always so thirsty.


Jessica (Tyner) Mehta, born and raised in Oregon and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the author of 13 books including eight collections of poetry, four novels, and one non-fiction book. She’s received several writer-in-residency posts around the world, including the Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at The Shakespeare Birthplace (Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK), Paris Lit Up (Paris, France), the Women’s International Study Center (WISC) Acequia Madre House post (Santa Fe, NM), the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (Nebraska City, NE), and a Writer in the Schools (WITS) residency at Literary Arts (Portland, OR). Visit for more.




Featured image courtesy of Nikita Koshakov.