My Mother's Daughter*

by Tish Valles

Tish and her Mama, Buffalo NY circa 1970

Inevitably the apple and the tree mirror one another if we've played our parts well.

For someone who has written for as long as I can remember, I have not been able to write a poem solely centered on my mother. The impossible task of reconstructing then reconstructing my mother became feasible one May evening when I confessed to my girl, Lynne Procope this simple truth. To which she rightly replied "well isn't that the perfect place to start? And of course it happened in Brooklyn, in a restaurant called Alice Arbor, at tea time like Alice -  a tradition started when Mama first introduced me to Alice and her looking glass.


Tea Time Like Alice

Alice’s Arbor, Brooklyn July 2013 

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

My mother does not have 

soft hands, does not own an 

apron. Does not temper her words.

Not made like that, we 

are made of micro minis

and straight As. Hard working 

hands and words clear as crystal.

My mother was not built to 

obey, was not built to submit.

Questioning, always questioning.

Never feeding the answer. Never

coddling, always trusting.


“Look it up.” or “What do you think 

it means?” or “How do you want 

to resolve this?” She does not 

have a green thumb, my mother. 

Not the light of our home, she was

the fire. The weapon-wielding

shorty-short wearing warrior

who raged through a bus at 

rush hour to confront the driver

who had cut-off our car and hold him

accountable for his almost 

murder of her family. 


My mother does not make

hot tsokolaté and pan de sal to

ease my pain. Not made

like that,  we are made of tea

time like Alice and riddles without 

answers. Rabbit holes leading to

rabbit holes. She did not hide things,

did not make things pretty. Wanted me

to see. Wanted me to know. 

Took me to my own limits 

so that I and I alone would say

how far was far enough.


Not made of modest things,

my mother was no brassieres

and the highest hemlines. 

She showed me that the female

form was a celebration of 

all things alive and beautiful.

She did not hide her skin, 

never apologizing for who she 

was. Brown woman in a weary

land the white man ravaged again

and again. She is no one else’s 

possession but her own. 


My mother is not made of obedient  

parts. Never acquiescing, not

to the nuns or the priests in the 

schools she went to. Not to the 

negotiators who would talk down

to the Filipino teachers union. 

Not to my Spanish father who would

have us and our raised fists safely home 

during the Martial Law protests. 

She was always subversive 

and she did not even know it. How 

could she, what with all that fight?


Not made of meek things, my mother 

will not apologize for what 

she  knows, And oh she knows

things. Brilliant woman, teacher 

of young minds and the teachers 

who would follow in the service 

of learning. “My kids.” She called them. 

My mother was everybody’s mother. 

Everybody’s teacher. She was never 

mine, but oh how I hold her, as she holds me. 

High as the moon, countless as the stars

at tea time, which is to say, always.


* This post was originally written by the author in the summer of 2013  for her other blog