Poems & Essays

17 Jun

Mother’s Guilt

General/Column 4 Responses

In early September
I delivered a nine pound baby
and the afterbirth was mother’s guilt

As soon as the nurse placed the shrieking infant on my chest
mother’s guilt ran across the placenta
untangled from the umbilical cord
and smeared its blood-tinged self across my body

When I left the hospital, mother’s guilt came with me
smuggled in the diaper bag
crouching beneath the car seat
burrowing near my swollen breast

Like a tricky shapeshifter
mother’s guilt manifested as empty milk cartons
dirty kitchens, burnt pancakes, undecorated Christmas trees

Thriving on mundane events
day-care drop offs, quite Sundays, summer mornings
mother’s guilt seized opportunity to destroy calm, wreck content, slaughter bliss

Always present, mother’s guilt followed, like a midday shadow, and sometimes
attacked like a starving bear, hungrily consuming
and I, defenseless, sobbed in the preschool parking lot
trembled in the grocery store

Mother’s guilt is popular, parading with an entourage of friends
Blame, Regret, Fatigue, Comparison, Resentment
inviting her disciples to get comfortable
extending their visit indefinitely

Sometimes at night, I drive across town to my Mom’s house
I comb flakes of mother’s guilt out of her hair
wipe guilt stains from her shirt,
pluck loose threads of guilt from her sweater
I brush guilt crumbs from her chin
and let her know, she did just fine.

Then, I drive home
hoping that one day
my daughter will do the same for me.




McKenzie Wood is an assistant professor of criminal justice at a college in western Idaho. She enjoys all things outdoors, being a connoisseur of herbal tea, and arguing with her brothers in-law. She lives in Boise with her husband and two children.

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Would you like to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!

  1. Annie Hindman

    June 17, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    You are an incredible wordsmith! I love this; I feel this.

  2. Ellen

    June 17, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    I liked this a lot!

  3. Nan

    June 17, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    This is so beautiful.


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