Mother Jessamyn
by Donna Hilbert

For Jessamyn West, 1902-1984

I wanted to be Cress,
smart in a new straw hat
and middy dress
strolling the boardwalk
on a summer day.
Cress Delahanty whose parents
thought her perfect,
in every major way,
who let her stay alone
on Sabbath day
to read and dream
and make for supper
a tasty oyster stew.
I wanted to be Cress
and dance the word
in a black lace shawl
and keep a list of phrases:
rainbow locks,
riven waves, aery rocks
not for meaning
but for pleasure.
And, I wanted to kiss
Ms. West, for giving birth
to Cress and thank her
for—in some sweet way—
giving birth to me.

SOURCE: “Mother Jessamyn” from The Congress of Luminous Bodies (Aortic Books, 2013).

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I am eleven and living in Reseda, California.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Books played an enormous role in my upbringing. An only child until eleven and a half, with a working mother, I lived as much in books as in the world. At about eleven, Cress Delahanty was my favorite book. I fantasized about what it might be like to be so completely accepted by parents. On rereading this book as an adult, I realized that the much of the appeal was subconscious, as the book was certainly autobiographical account of the childhood of its author Jessamyn West, and it fed my deep desire to live a creative life. I met Jessamyn West shortly before her death, and she was every bit as lovely as I had imagined her to be.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Donna Hilbert’s latest chapbook, The Democracy of Carbon, is collected in Swallow Dance, from Silver Birch Press. Earlier books include The Congress of Luminous Bodies, from Aortic Books; The Green Season, World Parade Books, a collection of poems, stories and essays, now available in an expanded second edition; Mansions, and Deep Red, from Event Horizon, Transforming Matter, and Traveler in Paradise from PEARL Editions, and the short story collection Women Who Make Money and the Men Who Love Them from Staple First Editions and published in England. New work is in recent or forthcoming issues of Chiron Review, Mas Tequila Review, and Nerve Cowboy. She is a frequent contributor to online journals including A Year of Being Here, Cadence Collective, Little Eagle’s Re/Verse, NewVerseNews, Your Daily Poem and every month at Verse-Virtual. Her work is widely anthologized, including The Widows’ Handbook, Kent State University Press. Learn more at www.donnahilbert.com.