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Words in her/my mouth By: Laura Winton

She was angry at the world on her mother’s behalf. That is to say, I was, if you believe in all this post-modern tooth fairy stuff about the speaker and the subject being the same person and the use of third person just being an artificial way of creating distance from an already fragmented self. But I is such an inelegant and self-absorbed way to start a story, a narrative, or whatever it is called these days, whatever it is that I am writing, just a way of drawing attention to oneself and saying look at me, look at me, and all of my deep thoughts that everyone else has had at one time or another, except that we don’t believe in the universal anymore and so I is a way not of saying that but of saying look at me, I’m a writer who wants credit for stringing together all of these words.

And so we, which is to say I, will start again. You can read she when I say I or I if I should forget and lapse into third person because I might need the critical difference distance.

I am bitter on my mother’s behalf and I become more so the longer she is gone. Every relative who ever slighted her without apology, every prophecy she ever made that went fulfilled about someone or other pulling away from her, leaving her for dead.

Every airplane trip evokes every tragedy. Flight numbers given out over the years: Lockerbie 103, American Airlines flights 77, 93 and 11 on a September day, United Airlines 175, Malaysian flight MH17 . . and so on. Do they retire flight numbers like old sports players? With every landing I become the pope all over again.

Every family member now leaves us before their time has come, going to other families, leaving me/her for holidays only, relegated to the adults table, a child of my mother, forgotten except for Christmas cards and empty birthday wishes, my mother calling me, daily telepathy my thoughts I can’t distinguish from hers, my wishes from her voice, so different from mine and yet I put words in her shadow mouth ghost mind. Now she is all smiles and days off from school to take me shopping. Her spectre laughs with me, has no voice to yell with, to scream at me any more. I do not cannot remember her voice raised in my direction, only the sweetness of her dance. I do remember to place in her exquisite corpse mouth drinking the new communion wine.

Landings are easy, welcomed. Better to drop from the sky on purpose, to be headed that way anyway, to be headed anyway that way, to have meant to have done that, than to fall unexpectedly.

I wonder if it is hard now for my father when I come for a visit. My friends say I/she looks exactly like my mother, aunts say that I laugh like her. I hear her living words come out of my mouth. Am I just a painful reminder of all the good and the bad he holds in his memory?

Every flight evoke/invokes/provokes the memory of every other flight. A late night through the dark equals the redeye flight to New York, to LaGuardia, when I/she was five. An attempted landing evokes the time I was flying to Minneapolis and as the landing gear came down, the plane shot back up in the air at a 90 degree angle, near-miss unreported but felt, nonetheless. A slight turbulence is the dreadful flight home from Las Vegas in storms, the sounds of the engines roaring like the set of a disaster movie, wherein I/she had become a nun frantically saying Hail Marys’ with her/my eyes closed through the whole flight.

Autobiography is the new big thing. Everything is autobiography. Creative nonfiction, which admits that biography is incomplete and that fiction is really all there is, even when it seems autobiographical. All is creative. Some imagining of who our fragmented selves want to project, to have you believe that we are. We don’t know anyone else. How can we/you know themselves?

My mother once said I still don’t know what I want to do with my life (when I grow up) and now it’s almost over. I can hear the words in my ears, and yet don’t remember now that I/she is writing it down, exactly how it was said. Is that (auto)biography?

I have no alter-ego. This is it. The auto-ego, the author-ego, although I am not much of an author. I start things and then meander around and get bored, never finishing them. No one lives in a book. Books are not “life only better.” They are too disjointed and unruly and the ending is unclear and I never seem to figure out the plot.

What is the thread of our lives so that we know that we are ourselves? Through operations and changed and removed organs, through people forgotten and dead and cut off from us, lives we may never return to, yet something holds us in, keeps everything from falling out in a big mess on the floor in front of us. But what was the moral of the story? How do you know that you/I are still you?

So say it again. I have no alter ego. I/she was never curious about what it was like to be a man, to move through this world as a man with man parts. (Even though he will probably never read this, I feel my father/dad is looking over my shoulder might someday read this. You never know. And now that my mother is not here, I have reverted to my 13 year-old self, embarrassed about certain words.)

I/she was never curious about what it was like to be anyone else but me/her in different situations, some better, some worse, to imagine myself/herself in situations that I/she saw on the news, but to be a third-person she. I realize suddenly that when I talk about my mom, she is a her and not a me and so when I say she/I or me/her, you/the reader might think that I am conflating she and I, rather than just cleverly messing with pronouns, losing my authorial voice, or that I am trying to that part of my authorial voice is hers . Autobiography and creative (non) fiction are suddenly very complicated in this web of fractured identities in which she and I are separate and I start writing about her but as usual end up talking about me.

Besides, she never cared to write, was never compelled to, as the words moved her hand almost involuntarily, illegibly, and so this is me, with my authorial voice.

But to tell you memories her story, I have to is necessarily to tell my memories of her my story/her story but not our story. As one of the letters of the Apostle Paul, that great postmodernist, says, “we know in part and we prophesy in part.” So how can I/she say anything authoritatively with about my mother? To tell you stories about my mother. But everyone tells stories about their mothers. The internet is full of them. Aren’t you/the reader (as) sick of them (as I am). This is the day of telling our stories, not of listening to other people’s stories. Who has time for (this) that (nonsense)?

My mother was ahead of her time, had dozens, maybe hundreds, of pictures of cats and dogs, even before the internet. I have been accused of writing poems with no people in them. (Silly thought process: are there cats because there are no people. Does the absence of people = cats?)

But I am not really all that curious, for a writer, about what it is to be another person. I/she doesn’t even have herself figured out, have the world/word figured out, am/is more interest in the large authorial voice, in the fragmented universal, in the big picture, than she is in pronouns, even though she keeps saying I all the time. How does a culture function without I’s, she wonders.

I should tell a story now, perhaps about the way I collect airsickness bags and bus transfers, thinking I will use them, together or separately, in a performance piece or in a work of art, rather than actually having them contribute to my presence on an episode of Hoarders.

Or maybe I should tell you about my mother, before all of this descends into me gazing at her navel, being a narcissus. Perhaps about the time she (my mother, not she/I) drove 25 miles to make sure that the skating rink would be safe for her/her epileptic daughter to go to a birthday party, because that is one of the primary memories of her now that she is gone. I can only remember her in small kindnesses, like pulling me out of school occasionally to go shopping. The skating rink had disco balls and she had to make sure there were no strobe lights. This part is (auto)biography. No creative details were used in this story, just facts from my/her/our lives. Still, as an omniscient author, I cannot actually tell you everything that was in her mind. As her daughter, one who carries her words in my mouth at times, but not every word exact, can only approximate the range of her motivations, which touch me/her more than ever.

The weight of objects from my father’s house on my soul. This was once my mother’s ____________. I lust for every object I need (or not) that was once hers. Threadbare towels, plates I ate from as a child. I want anything she once had. My/her memories are mine/hers.

I am artless. All of this post-modernism leaves me with a headache self-conscious. I just come out and say things. That girl couldn’t find a metaphor with a (map)(compass) anymore. She has lost her way. What right does she have to poetry? She has no authority.

As we land, we become giants among doll houses and toy cars, until like Alice, we consume the cake that makes us smaller, makes other objects larger, and we are back in the real world.

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