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Epigenetics (for my mother on our 31st anniversary)

In some ways, I feel like I am older than you. 
Like you need to be conserved.
A quiet doe grazing in a meadow
next to a busy highway at dusk. 
I’ve always felt the inherent urge to protect your delicate sensibilities. 

I won’t know how it really feels to wear my heart outside of my chest until I bear a quiet fawn of my own. 

I’ve always known,
deep within the fascia of my self
that I am also meant to be a mother to a daughter one day.
Although the idea of welcoming her into this world,
from my loins to the light without you
makes me want to cross my legs and wait 
until we’re on the same continent again. 

The author and her mother, 1993

I always thought a prerequisite of childbirth was having your mom there, 
with chutzpah and a Lamaze certification in tow. 

The photo on my fridge from the first day of my life. 
I don’t know which one of us had more baby fat. 
Me, two weeks late with jaundice and birth injuries. 
You, 22 with fresh Caesarean scars and a cracked pelvis. 
Her, 52 and looking fresher than both of us, 
brimming at the camera with pride, with relief.
The photo is a trophy from a hard-fought battle.
Something about it feels so sacred, so fundamental,
Our first matrilineal portrait, 

I miss the both of you with such a nuanced and fierce yearning. 
To say “I miss you” feels like a cheap understatement. 
It is indeed a yearning
for the both of you. 

To spend decades, centuries,
nestles within one another 
like cellular Russian nesting dolls. 

Micaeli Catherine Rourke,
daughter of Mary Patricia Rourke, 
daughter of Mary Margaret Colligan, 
daughter of Helen Margaret Gilmartin. 

The author with her mother and grandmother, December 2004

Each of us was within her when Helen first lost the twins,
When she held their premature infant bodies in the palm of each hand, 
And again when Patsy Ann, her third-born, succumbed to pneumonia at nine months old. 
We were there on Mary Margaret’s wedding day, 
19 years-old on a late-April Easter Sunday,
her only son already planning his arrival. 

Every trauma endured by the women who got us here
is still etched like hieroglyphics in the deepest caverns of our cellular code. 
Our biographies are inherently sequels
Even if we don’t know the totality of the facts already committed to history. 
They are recorded inside of us. 

This brings comfort. 
Also sorrow. 
The traumas abound, 
passed down through the generations like Waterford crystal and engagement rings. 
We are not special in this way. 

Each multi-generational saga has its injustices, its defeats,
accidents, betrayals, pleading bargains with God. 

But I’m only just now learning that all of these things, 
These pangs of history
Are still inside of us. 

You, I, your sisters, their daughters, 
The women yet to make their entrance into our family 
they are still within me. 

They were within me as I was within you
while you were within Mary
while she was within Helen
while Helen was within her mother.

Their daughters remain nestled within them
as they are nestled within me, 
Absorbing the strength brought from every triumph
The pain felt within every defeat. 

I find myself with an advantage that our foremothers weren’t privy to.
One that I will pass on to my daughters, 
one that I want you, too, to have, mother.

How the highs and lows of those who came before us
Are traced within us like tree rings. 
The real advantage lies in the power of knowing that this ancestral trauma 
is a burden that can be healed!

We can release it from ourselves, 
Banish it from our beautiful and encumbered bloodline.
Imagine the levity that we, as ancestors, 
can give to the woman who will one day
have our features on their faces
our handprints on their hearts? 

To know of this connection brings understanding
which brings catharsis. 
I wear your triumphs and defeats
Just as you wear hears. 
As we both do. 

This is the case whether we know it or not. 
But we know it now. 
That’s the thing. 

In some ways, I feel older than you. 
In a different life, maybe you are the child and I am your guardian. 

You protect me. 
I protect you.
The hieroglyphics within us
Tell the same stories.
The triumphs, the defeats.
The wholeness of both. 
The handprints on hearts. 


Stories of travels, of tribulations, and of learning to tell the difference.

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