Regarding What My Mother Spilt

by Amelia Jackie

My mother has a habit of being late for everything[1]. The morning I missed breakfast my mother put milk in a tupperware without telling me. I got off the bus and the teacher chased me down because my backpack was leaking milk everywhere and all the kids were watching. And how could my mother be so foolish not to snap the lid tight enough, to not tell me she put milk in my bag, to be so late for everything always and make me miss breakfast.

Where I may have written ‘I hate you’ or ‘you ruined my life’ I sometimes leave blank spaces, I just lift the idea right off the page. You can draw a circle around the silence or skip past it if you need the reprieve like I do. It is a political decision to revere what my mother spilt instead of hate her for it[2].


I want to have an affair with you, this is the only reason I write.


What I look for in an interlocuter is someone who will give me a slice of her apple. When I come to Barrie’s office she gives me a paper cup to share her water. She lets me borrow her pen and I have helped myself to her chocolate. All this set up is to prepare me to spill. I try to tell her my project before I understand it, and she sorts through the wreckage[3].

My interlocutor was once Sabrina. Last summer when her mind was moving so fast she didn’t know where to put her excess, she drank so much water it killed her. There was too much liquid for her cells to hold, her body spilled out of the world.

I write for her, my life a quest to know the silt on her window. A quest to know my grandmother’s dreams, thoughts she told through a slow tick of her hands[4].


It started with a lover who didn’t want to kiss me and all at once slime was everywhere. And the worst part was it felt like it was all mine and it was always oozing out of me. (I am made of slime and only I am. I keep ending up on your doorstep. Drooling on your doorstep, and there is all this crying and spitting laughter when I’m talking. All this tripping and falling on the sidewalk. Why do I keep ending up on your doorstep in the middle of the night telling you things that I don’t even understand until after I say them. How can I live being made of all this slime?)

And then there was Sartre whispering in my ear: “ I open my hands, I want to let go of the slimy and it sticks to me. It is a soft, yielding action, a moist feminine sucking, it lives obscurely under my fingers, and I sense it like a dizziness; it draws me to it as the bottom of a precipice might draw me.[5]

(Bodies should be enclosed. What’s-inside-is-secret-or-doesn’t-exist-but-what-if-I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-my-blood-and-organs-and-how-I’m-not-just-flesh-I-am-also-liquid and in order for you to love me I need saran wrap or at least you should hold and umbrella.)

How am I supposed to Imagine myself as a subject when I am worried about oozing all over the room. Sekou is telling me to remove the ‘she’s’. The ‘I’ is Amelia even if it’s now, he says. You ‘I’ pronoun is what makes the poem powerful. You have no allegiance to the facts, he said.

And then I saw it in the girl in my Friday lecture that couldn’t help lighing and lifting the hair off her back of her neck. Her black hair wet with sweat. Her lifting, letting go, lifting, sighing.

Barrie asked me if I’d ever said something to someone before thinking and right as the last words left my mouth, did there ever come a river repulsion— a rain of guilt. That’s the spill. I am writing because I want you to spill with me[6].


It’s a habit of my mother, always asking me to get her a glass of water when I wake her from sleeping. My mother is a very talented sleeper[7]. I know to let the faucet run and add ice but she tells me every time and this is what annoys me— the reminder. The getting of the water I like, it’s a prvilege.

It is a habit my grandmother has with her hands. When I scan the channels on the T.V. with a remote controller my grandmother yells: ‘quit mashing buttons’ and I know that word ‘mash’ has a funny way of working there but now it seems an appropriate word to describe what my grandma does with her hands. She’s always moving them from her skin, to her clothes, to the table, to her toothpick (she’s chewing during our game of gin rummy). She’s always evening out whatever is around, smoothing the fabric of her linen. (Truth is she doesn’t wear linen, it’s polyester-blend.) Pinching at her skin, tapping no particular rhythm. She’s always involving herself with the way of things so subtly (from her skin, to her clothes, to the table, to her toothpick.)

It’s a habit of my mother to talk so slowly it sounds like she’s holding honey in her mouth. It’s not just a southern habit it’s a habit of southern women— to build their houses out of molasses.

And why do people think molasses is sweet? It’s not. It’s dark and barely bitter but not sugary, the taste so deep, for most unbearable. For some the darkest thickest grade is the perfect basenote to a light biscuit. For some molasses is the ideal.

My mother’s slowness, her sensual intellect, never made her favored in the north. That suited her girls because we were running from the men who she over-indulged, men who could never stop loving her. I am searching for an aesthetic that doesn’t privilege lightness over weight— the grace to the obscene[8].

It is a habit of my grandmother to chew at the side of her mouth. To chew on the gristle long after the meet is gone. TO eat little bites of the biscuit dough she is kneading.


This is the excess of identities I search for in my life. It is where my lovers reside. It is the way we make people feel when they don’t know how to identify us, when they are repulsed because our names slip from their hands like fish back to the ocean[9]. We are not afraid of the slow suction of molasses. We are so alive we have foam around our mouths.


[1] Simone De Beauvoir has an interesting discussion of lateness in The Second Sex. Men have acted as though women are late because they are absent-minded. Beauvoir says that women have been late deliberately with sober minds, as an act of protest to man’s schedule and dominance of her life.

[2] Drucilla Cornell. Between Women and Generations: Legacies of Dignity, 2005. This book was a revelation to my project. Cornell wants to find a way to writer her mother’s autobiography with dignity. This is where I take the idea of loving my mother as a a political stance. Cornell thinks that there have been enough books about hating your mother and she wants to search for a new representation that includes ‘intergeneration conversation’. I was also informed by Sarah Murphy’s discussion of Cornell’s work ‘Mourning and Metonymy: Bearing Witness Between Women and Generations’ in Hypathia vol. 19, no. 4 (Fall 2004). Murphy discusses the need for women’s autobiography and the ethics of representation and questions the history of literarily ‘murdering the mother’ as a way of individuation. She advocates the eternal mourning of the mother, which may be seen as an antithesis to Freud’s analysis. (Read in Dr. Karp’s course ‘Mothers, Daughters, Sisters.’)

[3] ‘An authoritative interlocutor is necessary if one wants to articulate one’s life according to the project of freedom and thus make sense of one’s being a woman (Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective 31).’ As quoted by Linda M.G. Zerilli in ‘Refiguring Rights through the Political Practices of Sexual Difference.” Zerilli discusses the collective’s task of freedom-as-world-building as opposed to sovereignty. Despite their will, women can’t be free if the world doesn’t allow it. (Read in Dr. Karp’s course ‘Feminist Critiques of Reason.’)

[4] I am endebted to Drucilla Cornell’s concept of ‘re-encircling the feminine metaphors’ throughout my project. Dr. Karp teaches the text ‘Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction and the Law’ in her course ‘The Body Remembering’. Cornell wants to discover the feminine imaginary or to ‘write the lack’. She dicusses the historical presence of women through’traces’ or moments when women can be seen in literature— for example, the hysteric. The hysteric is a metaphor that can be re-envisioned by feminists , as a place of women’s subjectivity. Her sublimation was impossible within her environment and yet we see she existed. Or to speak in terms of the project, she spilled outside of her container.

[5] Jean Paul Sartre. Being & Nothingness, 1943. Dr. Karp’s course ‘Feminist Critiques of Reason’ discussed masculinism in philosophy and misogyny on a psychoanalytic level. We discussed Luce Irigaray’s essay ‘This Sex Which is Not One,’ which serves as a central text to my writing and thinking. I think Karp’s intention for teaching Irigaray is to incite creativity in young feminists. The text imagines a space outside of patriarchy and seeks to design a feminist aesthetic that establishes woman as simply, present. A misinterpretation of Irigaray is that she wants to create a full presence or a determined feminine identity. The reason a young feminist might be liberated by Irigaray is because she writes as a woman. She therefore opens the possibility of other women to write as women— and create a multitude of multiplicative identities.

[6] Anne Carson. “Foam (essay with rhapsody)” from Decreation, 2005.

[7] `Anne Carson. “An Ode to Sleep” from Decreation, 2005.

[8] Jean Paul Sartre. Being & Nothingness, 1943.

[9] Elizabeth Grosz. “The Hetero and the Homo” from Engaging with Irigaray : Feminist Philosophy and Modern European Thought by Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor, Margaret Whitford, Elizabeth Grosz, 1994. (Studied in Dr. Karp’s FCR). Grosz takes the concept ‘reserve’ or ‘interval’ to discuss the areas of slippage where women can create their identities. She says that the death of god in post-modernism has allowed for a new opening—a ‘remainder’ as opposed to a ‘lack’. I find this especially interesting because for the most part, my project was written in the margins of my notes taken during my courses at Lang— classes in philosophy and political theory have led me to creative language. My work is of the excess, the margins. I am researching a feminist aesthetic.

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