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Archive for May, 2018

. . . oh antic God return to me . . .

 

It’s not much of a poem blitz when you only feature two poems (three if you count my giveaways) but this year I’m feeling a little disengaged from Mother’s Day, my mother being gone two years now. Even so, two poems are enough when they’re as good as these.

 

I left Lucille Clifton’s “oh antic God” at the drugstore in the adult diaper aisle. No one wants to linger in the adult diaper aisle, a sad and embarrassing place, but maybe whoever comes across Clifton’s poem won’t mind pausing to take in her short tribute, her raw longing.

 

poem is in the foreground of middle shelf

 

oh antic God

by Lucille Clifton

 

oh antic God

return to me

my mother in her thirties

leaned across the front porch

the huge pillow of her breasts

pressing against the rail

summoning me in for bed.

 

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

 

I can barely recall her song

the scent of her hands

though her wild hair scratches my dreams

at night.   return to me, oh Lord of then

and now, my mother’s calling,

her young voice humming my name.

The poem is a glimpse of a woman long gone. Only aging children can fully appreciate that every mother—dead or just old, incontinent, thin-haired, stooped, sour-smelling—was once young and ripe with life. That mother from childhood is unreachable, so that what was once annoying or inconvenient, like being called into dinner in the middle of outdoor play, becomes what is most longed for.

 

return to me, oh Lord of then  

and now, my mother’s calling,

her young voice humming my name.

 

(The book I photocopied the poem from didn’t title this poem, so I assumed it was a continuation of the poem from the previous page, which it wasn’t. A long way of saying I mis-titled the copy I left. Pay no attention.)

 

I set Wendell Berry’s “To My Mother” on top of candy boxes at a fancy grocery store. This poem is so beautiful I felt I was leaving treasure. I hope some woman’s son long grown out of his rebellious stage finds the poem and cherishes his mother all the more.

poem on white candy box

 

To My Mother

by Wendell Berry

 

I was your rebellious son,

do you remember? Sometimes

I wonder if you do remember,

so complete has your forgiveness been.

 

So complete has your forgiveness been

I wonder sometimes if it did not

precede my wrong, and I erred,

safe found, within your love,

 

prepared ahead of me, the way home,

or my bed at night, so that almost

I should forgive you, who perhaps

foresaw the worst that I might do,

 

and forgave before I could act,

causing me to smile now, looking back,

to see how paltry was my worst,

compared to your forgiveness of it

 

already given. And this, then,

is the vision of that Heaven of which

we have heard, where those who love

each other have forgiven each other,

 

where, for that, the leaves are green,

the light a music in the air,

and all is unentangled,

and all is undismayed.

 

Berry’s poem awoke a memory that I keep at bay because it always makes me feel ashamed. And in a small wonder, the poem not only woke the memory but changed it for me.

 

Years ago my mother’s beloved brother, my Uncle Jack, who had visited me in Michigan from Texas in his old age and who I also loved, passed away. And I didn’t call her to say, how sad about Uncle Jack, how are you doing, how was the funeral. Maybe at first I was busy with little children. That’s an explanation, not an excuse because there was no good excuse for not calling her right away. Weeks went by and I still didn’t call her. It got to be a thing. I was so ashamed of not calling that I kept not calling. My mother never liked talking on the phone but still. I didn’t call. A month or two later my mother called me. I still remember weeding a bed of goatsbeard when the phone rang. “Maggie!” she said, as if she were surprised I were alive. I fell over myself apologizing, crying as I told her how sorry I was. Even now it makes me feel terrible to think of it, to consider how I’d feel if my one of my own daughters neglected to call me after a big loss like that.

 

But Berry’s poem switches the focus of that moment. Because my mother, like Berry’s mother, instantly forgave me. It wasn’t even a question. She just wondered, she said, that was all. She didn’t seem mad or hurt, just glad to be finally talking to me.

 

Ah. How lucky I am to have had a mother like that

 

Looking past my own experience to a country beset by hardening resentments and bitter reproach, I am all the more struck by the vision of heaven Berry paints, a place

 

where those who love

each other have forgiven each other

 

This forgiveness, freely given before the offense has even happened, is what allows heaven to be so heavenly. In such a place, Berry writes,

 

. . .  the leaves are green,

the light a music in the air,

and all is unentangled,

and all is undismayed.

 

 

Julia Kasdorf’s “What I Learned From My Mother” is a poem I’ve featured before. I had a dozen copies of it, so I left all of them at the train station when I picked up my daughter for the Mother’s Day weekend.

poem on bench

What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all, especially to those who no longer have their mothers. And also to those who never knew their mothers and to those who had a mother not up to the job. We were all born of woman, and there is goodness in that.

 

 

 

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