Fuck Mary. Fuck Lily Potter. Give me Sethe. Give me Mrs. Coulter. Give me Procne. Demeter, even, give me Demeter turning the world to rot, or Juno burning up every other woman in her path, every other baby, leaving her own children to plot and riot and tear at each other with their teeth. Give me the one whose name I can’t remember but who, when Ovid gets to her, she’s spread across the pale limbs of her grown children, having wrought their deaths with her bragging. Oh my god, give me her, give every Instagram mother on my feed her, and that story, a warning, a vision, a mock: No, Mama. You don’t got this. Give me my own mother, even, how we thought of her as savior, as angel, fragile and sweet and warm, only those tears didn’t extend to me, weren’t for me, were just at me, were about me, Cameron, sometimes your brain scares me. I would never say anything like that, I thought, so little and my body tight with how big my mother’s eyes were. And here, Theo in front of me, eleven months, and I’m already thinking it, watching him pull Diet Coke cans from their neat rows in the open refrigerator, rolling them heavy one by one in his tiny hands, and restacking them, exactly where they were before, oh my god, he’s too smart for me. I’m all whoosh and I can’t tell what the feeling is, except that it makes me want to squeeze him against the breast he rejected too young and say no, no, no, no, not a bit farther away, not anywhere but here, I’ll put you in the shakshuka your father is stewing for dinner and eat you if I have to, just to keep you near me, small and near, small and dear. But within the hour my jaw will ache from smiling while I watch you throw dinner on the floor and grimace over every bite, my bad wrist will hurt from the grip on my fork, my mind will be on how to make it through another meal without throwing food myself, without wanting to break my phone across my face when your grandmother FaceTimes us to say how precious you are, food smeared across your cheeks, your perfect lips so like a heart, a taunt, a bow. To make it through I will sort literary mothers into categories in my head, the heroines, the long-suffering victims, the ones who don’t fit either, and I always end up in myth. I only started actually reading the classics after your birth, and I devour them in place of devouring you, name our plants after them: Cadmus, Harmony, Psyche, Philomela, Medea, Circe, Odysseus, Minerva, Jupiter, Hermaphroditus, Io, some of these aren’t even mothers, aren’t even “women,” and yet they are, aren’t they, just the way I sit at night sometimes, watching your father rock you before bed and think, oh wow, he’s so much better at this than I could ever hope to be.

Cameron Steele is a writer, editor, and tarot reader living in Nebraska, where she teaches creative writing, composition, and literature courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Recent poems and essays are forthcoming or have been published in Poets.OrgSFWP Quarterly, and GRAVEL. Her current manuscript No Easy Way Out is a memoir-in-essays that examines the stories she reported on as a white, middle-class crime reporter in the Deep South alongside personal narrative about body, family, and healthcare. She is a graduate fellow in the Center for Great Plains Studies and in her free time co-hosts ‘Unaspected,’ a podcast series on astrology, literature, and film.

Photo by Dinah Lenney