This poem by Joshua Burton is comprised of nine vignettes as letters addressed to my mother (Joyce), my niece (Brianna), and Maya (Maya Angelou) in different ways.


By Joshua Burton
Illustration Zumbambico

[to Joyce as Sister] 

When I was young, you told me that your body was once made 

into a thing. Your brother took your body, made scraps of it 

hanging from a rope. Hung from a tree like a used tire. Wind 

blew through you and you swayed. 

[to Joyce as Wife] 

They say a woman’s body belongs to her husband. Your husband 

made you cry when he stood you next to a plaque on a fireplace 

with the words inscribed “In this house we will serve God”. If God 

could speak he would the way a boy does, hurriedly and intrepid, 

unaffected by his own sundial. I stood between you and him diverting 

his virile wind. 

[to Joyce as Mother] 

I recall the first time I made you cry. An adolescent who thought words 

were monotonous. I watched you become a willow, turning from the sun, 

protecting me from its rays and my own reflection on the lake. 

[to Brianna as Niece] 

Your mother named you at birth, and minutes later gave you away. 

For six months you were passed, a collection plate where the alms 

lessen after each row. But when we held you in our arms, we refused 

to let go. The wind holds words and encloses them until they reach 

their home. 

[to Maya as Woman] 

The man who raped you was found dead. You said your voice had 

killed him, then left your body like a fever. Words are things 

you once said, and if that is so when you speak you are releasing 

an epithet of ammonia, more visible than the body. 

[to Brianna as Daughter] 

You cried the entire ride home. Moth-eyed in your pink dress. 

Tears clung onto my flesh like leeches. Our holy water reminding 

us how time splits us, where one side grows and the other subsides 


[to Joyce as Mother] 

We are two palmate leaves hanging, silent, waiting for the sound 

of the wind to overcome us. And take us to a place where the trees 

are all hollow, graved, shrilling insides, where my silence heals you, 

and yours destroys me. 

[to Joyce as Mother] 

When you were pregnant with me the doctor fed you pills until 

your stomach would no longer grow. He tried to control that mortal 

process you created. But you said no. There’s a world within me and 

a door made of native rock. It is my door to open. 

[to Joyce as Mother] 

Depression is my birthright. So I clung onto you and death like a shadow. 

I was not allowed to release you. Dragged me along like a wheeless wagon 

on concrete, and we created tiny sparks. I held on until I caught fire, then 

let you go. 

This poem is from a poetry manuscript written by Joshua Burton called Waltz about the life of his mother. His mother let him read her journals she’s been collecting for the past 30+ years to help him better write about her life and write poems in her voice. This poem is taken from a letter she wrote to her brother that she never sent. She was sexually abused by her brother as a child, so in this letter she is attempting to heal from the abuse. 

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Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, TX. He received his B.A. from the University of Houston and his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. His work seeks to navigate the way historical, generational, and familial trauma crosses wires with mental illness. He is a 2019 Tin House Winter Workshop Scholar, 2019 Juniper Summer Writing Institute scholarship winner, 2019 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics fellowship finalist, and received the Honorable Mention for the 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize. His work appeared in Figure1, BODY Literature, Mississippi Review and Gulf Coast. 

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