Atlanta Writer’s Club Presents…

The Natasha Trethewey Prize for Poetry Winner: Elizabeth Bracken


Sestina for My Mother


When I was four, I would sit in a brown wooden chair
in the kitchen and my mother would braid
my hair. Then she would turn to the sink
and take the breakfast dishes and place
them in the soapy water. The morning light
streamed through the window as I watched her.

This is my earliest memory of her.
Now when I visit her, she’s sitting in a brown vinyl chair
next to the nursing station, and the fluorescent light
shines on her silver hair and her coiled braid.
I do not think she’s unhappy in this place,
but when I walk through these doors after work, my heart will sink

more than I’ve ever felt my heart sink.
If she’s sitting in the hallway when I arrive, I sit there with her.
I take her hand in mine and place
it in her lap so that she knows I am in this chair
next to her. I smooth her braid
and watch the fading evening light.

Soon it is time to walk her back as the hall light
dims. I help her into bed and, from her sink,
I take a cloth and gently wash her face. Her braid
I gently unwind; brushing, brushing. Her
eyes close. She smiles. I sit in the brown wooden chair
next to her bed and put the brush back in its place.

I know her mind is not really in this place.
She travels during the day on a beam of light.
Her magic carpet waits outside her door: a brown vinyl chair
that takes her back to her kitchen sink
where I am waiting for her
to turn around and fix my braid.

When I was four, I did not know my braid
would bind us to this place.
I only knew the brush and her
hands felt so light.
She’d smile at me from the kitchen sink.
I remember all of this as I sit by her bed in this brown wooden chair.

I stand by her bed and turn off the light.
I glance at my own braid; it lies neatly in its place.
In the mirror over the sink, I can see my empty chair.


Elizabeth Bracken went back to college after retirement to work on a degree in English with a concentration in Literature. She is now a senior and part of the Honors College at Georgia State University. She is the winner of the Natasha Trethewey 2019 Prize for Poetry and “Sestina for My Mother” was her first writing contest entry. Liz thinks she might need to add some Creative Writing classes to her major and believes revision may be the key to writing and life. Her passion is finding hidden treasures in secondhand bookstores. She lives in Atlanta, GA.
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