Diane Gottlieb

Her Mother Used to Make Her Cry Until She Learned 

to speak. While she never raised a hand to the child, her mother would often give her the look. Fueled by anger running hot in her bones, her mother’s eyes would turn to flame.

          The baby would cry. The mother would calm her. Flame. Tears. Soothing arms. A dance, repeated over and over again.

“But you looked so cute right before you cried,” her mother told her, years later, with a smile. The confusion “sweet.” The desperation “darling.” The terror “absolutely adorable.”

          “I calmed you right down, for God’s sake!” the mother said. “No harm. No harm done.”


When the child learned to speak, she became silent. Holding. Holding everything in. She carried that silence in her groin, where it festered over many years’ time. Red embers, orange, burnt gold. They burned. They burned her. Until she refused to burn any longer.

          She taught herself to play with fire. Eat it. Sing out flame. She’d belt fire from bedroom windows, off high rooftops, onto the very ground beside her mother’s grave. Oh! How she seared her terror! Torched her silence to ash.

          Now, she whispers warmth into her own baby girl’s ear. Hums sunny lullabies. Fire, she uses for cooking. It slides smooth and soft off her tongue.

Diane Gottlieb’s writing has appeared in Bending Genres, 100-Word Story, The Rumpus, Hippocampus, and Entropy, among others and has been anthologized in And If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing. She is the winner of Tiferet’s 2021 Writing Contest in nonfiction and is the 2021 Dancing in the Rain fellow at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. Diane is Prose/CNF Editor of Emerge Literary Journal. Find her at https://dianegottlieb.com and on Twitter @DianeGotAuthor.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021