My mother has kept the same voicemail on her machine for almost twenty years.  

At the bottom of the cycle there is a little boy who sings her Happy Birthday and my index finger always itched to erase it because I didn’t understand why she kept it.   

I knew it made her sad so I didn’t push the button. 

I’m almost as old as my mother was when she bought her black dress and I think about the little boy singing as I walk myself between the sleeping highway.  

I understand now that street lamps aren’t supposed to be blurry and that my mother kept that song as she would’ve my grandma’s violets, because she knew someday my metal and my mind would be far away from her.  

She kept her Happy Birthday, but in the meantime the purple bedroom and my father’s kissing fish have been softly covered in the same red silt  

that covers the back hands of people who can read dark tags on peeling white doors.  

All of these cars and still no one remembers how to cut open toothpaste or make funeral potatoes.  

Tell my mother I’m sorry her softness didn’t take in the way I had hoped 

In a way that would’ve made things easier.

Olivia Rivera is an undergraduate student studying International Affairs, Naval Science, and Writing. She values poetry as a way to explore nuanced human relationships and as a tool for autobiographical writing. Olivia draws inspiration from her childhood in Pueblo, Colorado and experiences that have allowed her to embrace her identity and independence.

Mother and Child. Minnesota Digital Library.