The Light Beneath My Mother’s Scars

Roey Leonardi

I was cut from my mother’s body
in late August, the world hot
and muggy and clinging like fingernails
to new pink skin. She was cut from
my grandmother’s body in December.
I wonder if the worlds we first know
leave us the way we are,
if I am burning and she is frostbitten.

My grandmother showed me her scar
once, an anchor on her abdomen
in the powdery green light
of her upstairs bathroom. I’ve wanted to ask
if these women ever feel, as I do, like their bodies
are sinking, miles of water pressing down
on their chests and everything
their eyes hold is blurred and blue.

My mother scolds me for letting
my fingernails grow too long. I’ve raked
them along my own forearms to see the pink
lines that follow them like jet streams trail
after the airplanes I watch from my backyard,
pretending I’m far above the heavy sea.

When I was little I scratched pictures onto my thighs,
watched them rise up and fade away again.
I think before I die I’ll trace
my mother’s scar and her mother’s
scar onto my body. I want to know
how it feels to have carried
something that heavy for so long.


ROEY LEONARDI is a junior at Charleston County School of the Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, where she majors in creative writing. She has won 38 regional and 6 national awards in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and has also placed in the PTA Reflections Contest and the Carl Sandburg National Poetry Contest. Her poetry has been published in Rattle magazine both online and in print. While her favorite form of writing is poetry, she enjoys nonfiction and fiction as well. Roey is most inspired by the natural world and the strong female influences in her life, particularly her mother and three sisters.

Discussion of Process 

"The Light Beneath My Mother’s Scars” was actually part of a series of poems I wrote for an assignment at Charleston County School of the Arts, where I major in creative writing. The series originally centered on the theme of the human body, but as I wrote, other themes emerged. These included femininity, origin, and motherhood, all of which are touched on in this piece. I think these themes show up so often in my writing because of my relationships with my mother and three sisters. For as long as I can remember I’ve been surrounded by strong female influences. In this particular poem, I tied together a memory of my grandmother’s C-section scar with a childhood habit of scratching my skin when bored or frustrated, and I used these images as jumping off points to try to discuss the weight women carry, whether it be personal or societal. One of the most difficult things for me to do when revising this poem was to find the reason for the images I chose and to convey it with clarity and continuity. My teacher had me explain to her why I chose to write specifically about the feelings of sinking and burning, and while difficult to articulate, thinking about the power and meaning behind my word choice helped me come up with a more clear direction for the poem as a whole.