Sydney Conley

Mother, an atonement

I cut my hair short because each tangle 
brushed me back into my five-year-old body. Into
all those mornings your white fingers battled my black hair. 
Bottles and bottles of conditioner smothered my knots,
you’d grab a tuff by the root— comb, scream, comb, scream— free
look there they go!you’d point, three rats just ran down your arm!
I never caught a glimpse of tail before they disappeared into the walls.
I feel you missing the most waiting on cups of 
instant mashed potatoes. On the oven’s preheat,
wrapping frozen dinners in aluminum, corn dogs on
baking sheets. I live on your tongue, nagging Eli to shower,
dad to swallow his pills, enduring endless laundry. Remembering
to clog the cabinet with rosé and that your spirits are lime-green. 
Thai food is the chipping glue of this family. An apology
for the three out of five nights your headlights don’t gaze
at the garage door until after eight. And I sweat soy sauce
in silence as my sighs, dad’s snores, and Eli’s Chopin 
hands hum us to sleep. 
I ate microwavable lasagna and three Pepperidge Farm
macadamias at four a.m. before Christmas morning.
My stomach wandered into the yard as I stumbled up the driveway,
and I thought the cinnamon roll rack covered my tracks, but
on the yellow-plaid loveseat you handed me two self-help 
books in peppermint wrapping. 
And honestly,
I carry grief in my wrist and leave texts in my fingertips. I 
remind myself not to hate, but I often do— It's a virus in my jaw 
that aches, hungover mornings when you’re not there to pull the
cotton from Tylenol bottles. 
But honestly,
my throat collapsed three years back, when every man
you knew drown in a disorder. All those semesters I spent on 
a barstool, you spent ignoring questions about Jesus and Mohamed,
putting ointment on skull scabs, on hospice couches, tracking down dad at the 
casino. So please know — I wade through syrupy soup, kneading 
out the truth between me and you.

Sydney Conley is a writer from Fayetteville, Arkansas. She graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in English and Journalism. She enjoys drinking coffee and perpetually trying to put words in a satisfying order. She tweets @sconley94 and blogs at