The Invisible Mother

Dara Yen Elerath


As she got older, my mother thought she was growing invisible. Often, she was afraid. What if she ate a poisoned plum and expired on the kitchen floor? What if a neighbor drove his car over her because he could not see her? When she cut carrots and onions for soup, she slipped the tip of her thumb beneath the blade—she wanted to feel the bite of the knife, to make certain she was still among the living.

On the door of her house she hung a sign: An invisible woman dwells here. She rang a bell so others would hear her. Go away, an angry man said. Your bell is intrusive, complained a woman. But I’m afraid, she cried, imagining terrible scenes in her head: standing in line to buy bread a man stepped on her, crushing her beneath his boot. Lounging on a balcony a girl didn’t see her, pressing her from the ledge to her death below.

While gazing at the sky, my mother saw clouds blown together in the shape of an ear. She revealed her secrets to them. Sometimes, she said, I dream I am sleeping in a field of ryegrass and clover. Other times, she said, I dream I am folding paper doves with my hands and when I look down they are children’s hands, but the clouds did not hear her, they shifted into the shape of a fist and my mother lamented—Will someone listen? Will someone, please, listen?

Then, one day, I leaned in to kiss my mother but could not feel her skin. Mother? I said, trying to find her, but all I felt was wind blowing through me. All I heard was a remnant of her voice like an old rag caught upon my palm. Since then, I’ve longed to find my invisible mother. I look for traces of her everywhere. I remember how she used to stare at me, back when she was visible. Eventually, she said, I’ll be old and you’ll have to hold me like an infant.

In my dreams, I see a light flickering in darkness. It is my mother transformed into an insect—a red firefly, garnet-bright; she is weaving her way toward me through the dark. Mother, is that you? I ask. The spark of her abdomen fills the room, illuminating everything. She rests herself against my palm and we lay for a while, imagining a world in which she is still visible, in which she is still seen. After such dreams I wake woven in skeins as red as rubies. After such dreams I wake dappled in sparks of my mother’s still-radiant light.


Dara Yen Elerath’s debut collection, Dark Braid (BkMk Press), won the 2019 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. A recipient of both the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the New Flash Fiction Award, her short-short fiction has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Vestal Review and Miracle Monocle. Her poetry has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Poetry, AGNI and elsewhere. She earned her MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.



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