POETS ONLINE ARCHIVE
Mother

 

Lucky  by Tony Hoagland  (from Donkey Gospel published by Graywolf Press) was the prompt during the writing period bisected by Mother's Day.  It's one of those holidays that has become a favorite of greeting card, flower and telephone companies. Once poets were commissioned to write verse for others to send on special occasions - a wedding, a birth, a death. People realized that poets could say something that they themselves were unable to articulate. Skip over a handful of centuries and you have greeting cards.

It would be a rare poet that has no mother poems in the file. I'm sure all of you could pull one out to send. But if you are looking to write anew for this prompt, take a good look at Hoagland's poem. This is no greeting card. The poem is painful to read and perhaps only a poet can imagine how hard it must have been to write.

Select one event in your life with your mother that serves as a central reflector for your relationship. Think small and specific, rather than the grand proclamations of the greeting cards.


HOLLYHOCK WOMEN
 

My mother's talent was not for planting and tending gardens,
but for letting the beautiful wild things grow.  She showed us how
to love what just came up-free gifts right in our own ragged yard:
Frogbelly leaves to inflate, honeysuckle drinks, sour clover salad,
peppermint to rub on our hands 'til we were mad with the smell of mint.

But Hollyhocks were our favorites--armless, faceless dolls
in lovely pink and red dresses with little, hard green heads.
We'd spear them through their sides with tiny, sharp sticks
to make straight, outstretched arms.  These hollyhock women
tilted on their lovely skirts, no legs beneath to support them.

I think of this as I lean against the wall this week,
phone cord twisted up my arm, long skirt whispering
at my ankles.  I'm crying again.   " I can't do it, Mom,
How can I keep on living with a person I don't love?     Could you?"

My mother, too afraid to ask a store clerk for her change,
afraid to talk to strangers, to take a plane,
afraid of bridges, of boats, of driving
in different places, riding in anyone else's car.

All her children  grown and planted
elsewhere, she still  tries to find gifts
in her own house, her own small yard.

And I remember now.  There were no mouths in those little green
hollyhock heads.  And stems grew like daggers from their skulls,
if we forgot to snap them off.  And Hollyhock Woman, there are
no legs under your lovely skirts, so where could you go,
even if you wanted to?
 

Svea Barrett-Tarleton



MY MOTHER'S WILLOW TWIGS
 

I listened deeply to your every word
to find a hint of love for me, your only girl.
Then I heard your plan for the willow tree:
"I’ll use that tree of twigs to break her will
before she's six years old," you told a friend;
"She has a need to bend my will to hers
and that's no way to grow up as a child."

As the willow tree became more bare,
and slender switches left their ruddy mark
upon my butt and legs, I went underground .
Instead of saying what I really liked
I learned to cater to your every word:
"What's your favorite picture on this page?"
I’d answer, "Mommy, it's the same as yours!’"
Or, "I am glad you like the clothes I choose."
"Of course, " I’d say, "Because you're always right."

This is Now, and I am well past six.
My stubborn will survived your awful test.
Today I face two daughters of my own
and as they trust their precious dreams to me
together we discover how a twig is bent
without the threat of switches from a tree.
 

Catherine M. LeGault


MOTHER'S DAY
 

In the beginning there was her song.
It held me through all the mornings
and twilights of my growing years.
It was the sound I imagined
flowers would make
if they could sing.
I heard it in the the greening
of my maiden days.
It stayed me fast
in the fulness of my unfolding life.

An unbound star she must have been
falling to earth to rise again
infused with human life.
How to think of her?
What thoughts for one
so deeply adored?
So easily forsaken?

She did not want to be there,
the house of no return,
and could not move to save herself.
I saw her empty gaze,
the muzzled memory of life
begin to fade.
I left her, a broken blossom,
tree fallen, for earth to claim.
Darkening to dust
her petals withered  through thirty days.

Nights, her haunting
burns through to my dawns.
Nights, I hurtle
through the funnel of darkness
hoping to find her
in the likeness of a forgiving light.
Often I look up
and think I see her there, again
among the other lights.
Would that I could hear a song,
or find a flower at my feet.

Ghei Galbani


POSTCARD

Nestled in the back seat
of the white '65 Chevy
tan vinyl interior sticks to
bare thighs and halter topped backs.

My sister,17, sulking
arms crossed, eyes straight ahead
chin quivering
having just been told for the tenth time why she
couldn't stay home alone.

My brother, his turn on the hump,
eating the last of the road mix-
peanuts, Cheerios, and Nestles butterscotch chips
and dreaming of the next Stuckeys.

My father, eyes only for the road
and ears for Roger Miller
pointing out the houses.

My mother, pink curlers peeking out
of a cloth wrapped head,
cat's eyes sun glasses perched on her nose
eyeing the road and my sister
weighing the pride of winning the battle
against the heaviness of 7 days in the car
with her.

My head pressed against hot glass
I stare at my nose until
I can see double
getting quietly car sick.

My mother pulls out the Kodak
All three of us stick out our tongues
click, postcard perfection.

Having a great time, wish you were here.
 

Cheryl Soback


THE NURSE
 

A shock of red
blood appeared in  the steel tray
under my chin,
an underside repeated
for my own perusal.
The rhythmic gag continued,
wracking this slender viscera
like the flagellant cough of the tubercular.
My tall mother shadowed a limp form
confined by hospital bed
and comforted me
with the tone she saved
for sick children and strays.
You zigged when
you should have zagged,
she wiped my chin
wet with spittle.
The repaired swollen nose
was straight beneath the bandages,
an accident reversed.
It was she
who paid the bill for this wound,
a favor for the only daughter
she had raised.
I see my own daughter
and know the boundless place
where a mother's love goes,
the return a question of future deeds.
She stayed with me
as the day sank into an evening meal
and waited till the blood was cleared
from the empty reservoir of my stomach.
I felt her presence like a child
haunted by nightmare,
the solace an understudy for faith.
When the retching ended,
she hurried downstairs
to repeat this day with strangers
a tireless white-clad figure
on the night shift.
 

Lisa Bruckman


WIDOW - WOMAN ALONE

I choose glorious fruits of summer
choosing summer fruits as gloriously colored
as a bouquet of summer flowers
and I choose perennial pleasures, mother
to incorporate your personality into my gardens

For today I honor femmes seules (women alone)
with the well-being of stately roses
bunch of style setter daisies
with fern fronds, earth's lace of a whorled union
they work well together like enterprising women

I pluck figs and black, juicy berries
and think of you mother
I imagine: when you feel smallest
or most insignificant
that's when you thrive most to be alive

So, tonight warm blackberries toasted to a sunset
in honor of widows, women alone
my mother
and sisters,
women alike
 

Connie E. Goulden



HEARING HER LAUGH
 

I remember those long
draining afternoons,
sitting next to her
in her silence, wishing
she would pull love over me
like a soft blanket
by saying
she is glad to see me.
But she is no longer
interested in anything,
not even herself.

At least, if she'd complain -
about the weather perhaps,
how rain keeps breaking
summer's fever.
Or about the letters
I keep sending, although
she no longer reads.
Only an occasional sigh -
the stuttering sigh
of a punished child
tired of crying.

When we were children,
she and my father sat
in big leather chairs
in the alcove by the bay window
for their after-dinner smoke.
He puffed smoke rings,
long lines of them.
As they wobbled toward us
we tried to catch them,
but they broke
in our clumsy hands.
We squealed in protest
until he made more.
And she would laugh.

I used to love
hearing her laugh.
Not like a mother
but like a young girl.
Her laughter sparkled
and danced.  It had wings.
Even now,
her laughter flutters
in my heart.
 

Marianne Poloskey


Sonnet

I think it is the thing that hurts me most –
this looking back and knowing when to leave
was when that part of me began to grieve
the life it would not have, not here, the coast
of it receding like the silken hem
of one pink robe, my mother’s sleeve perhaps,
which reached to bend and toss my red curls back
from where they’d fallen out of sorts, again.

It is no wonder that I waited there
for any touch to find me, my small chair
kindling hope.   I was the one who stayed
to sweep the ashes into words.  Thus you might pray
someday someone will spite you for your good,
and flame requite the sacrifice of wood.
 

Mary DeBow


A LIFE WITHOUT POETRY

I write these lines for you,
mother, who had no poetry,
no classes or notebooks,
journals or readings. I wonder
how you held on to your life
and made sense of the pieces --
if you tried to fashion from them
some fabric for yourself to wear.
Something fine and smooth,
that you could use any time
you needed to slip into being
comfortable with yourself
and beautiful to the world.
I never saw such a garment,
though I searched for it
in your closet and drawers
as I boxed your life.
I want to believe that you
had it in a drawer and under
it were love letters, hidden fire.
I never noticed it, failed to ask you
about it, couldn't see its beauty
or smell the smoky scent.

 

Lianna Wright


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