Maternal Instinct

Crista Ermiya


My mother is afraid of dogs.

At seventeen, she reversed a car into a puppy.
The pup's mother bore witness.
For days and weeks and long, long hours
she hounded my mother's steps
with quiet, insane patience.
To save my mother
my grandmother killed the dog
tied her to the gatepost and shot her.


My grandmother is not afraid of dogs.

She gave birth to twelve children.
Six died before the age of seven.
My grandmother saw one son
run down by an army jeep.
She went mad, barked at soldiers
and jeepneys, bared her teeth.
Her husband locked her up
before the soldiers did.


When I asked for a dog for Christmas
my mother said, no
they need too much looking after.


When I told her I didn't want children
my mother said,
you'll change your mind when you get older.


My mother is not afraid of babies.
I am not afraid of dogs.


I have no stomach for a whelp's cry,
cannot bear to think
of the hunger-suck of mouths
at my teats.


The ghosts of babies ask me
if, when, I grow old
(as they will never grow old)
will I revert to that deranged bitch
and mourn sons or daughters
who failed in the womb;
will I be tied to the gatepost and left
to weep under the moon?

Crista Ermiya

Crista Ermiya was a winner of the Decibel Penguin short story prize in 2006, and her short stories have been published in several anthologies, including most recently Volume 1: New Voices from a Diverse Culture (Penguin 2006) and Tell Tales III edited by Julia Bell and Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Tell Tales, 2006). She is the managing editor of indie poetry press Dogeater, and a co-editor of Other Poetry magazine. She lives with her partner in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Maternal Instinct is from her first chapbook of poetry, Piranha (iD on Tyne Press, 2007).

For more recent news from Crista, see her subsequent Poems of the Month, The Lives of Strangers and After the flood.

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Maternal Instinct © 2007 Crista Ermiya: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.