Archive for the ‘Eavan Boland’ Category

It’s a good thing I passed by a playground before I found the cemetery I was on the hunt for. Because “Happy Mother’s Day, I see dead people” is twisted, even for a twisty elf like me.


But I do see dead people this Mother’s Day—my mother who died the week before Mother’s Day three years ago, my mother-in-law who died just this past November. The poems featured in this post see dead people too, or at least people from the past, as they once were.


So if you’re not grieving a lost mother this Mother’s Day . . . well, lucky, lucky you. Give your mum an extra smooch.


I left Meghan O’Rourke’s “My Mother” on a checkerboard table near the playground equipment:



I can’t read this without . . . you know . . . more-than sniffling . . . especially since the last car ride I took with my mother was to see the cherry blossoms.


Come down from your weeping cherry,

Mother, and look at how we have scattered

your ashes only in our minds, unable

to let you leave the house—

I couldn’t find the full text on line, but link here to a beautiful essay O’Rourke wrote about her mother’s clothes after her mother died.


O’Rourke also wrote an ode to her aunts, which I left on a park bench at the same playground:


I myself had only one aunt who I never knew, but I had older sisters who were as intoxicating to me as O’Rourke aunts were to her. I called them “Cool Girls” because they were. And still are.

Here’s a link with the poem. O’Rourke is a master of endings. See how she brings the car full of smoking-hot aunts to a halt:

Stop now, before the green

comes to cover your long brown bodies.




I set Rita Dove’s “Motherhood” against some books in a Little Free Library:


It’s a disturbing dream of a baby in mortal danger—

Then she drops it and it explodes

like a watermelon, eyes spitting.


But the poem turns just a hair and suddenly the mother’s fierce protectiveness of her baby threatens the life of another creature, some other mother’s offspring—


On a newfangled jungle gym I taped Eavan Boland’s “Is It Still the Same.”


This one gives me chills, in the best kind of way, the surprise of the young mother writing turning out to be an older mother writing—

I wrote like that once.

But this is different:

This time, when she looks up, I will be there.


Finally, I taped Marie Ponsot’s “Between” to the pole of a swingset:

Ponsot dedicates the poem to her daughter whom she observes, pregnant (at least it seems to me) and walking in the door:

The woman, once girl once child, now is deft in her ease,

is door to the forum, is cutter of keys.


Happy Mother’s Day to all!


Especially the motherless (sad trombone sound).


Now here’s something a little more cheerful. This Friday Chicago writer Bridget Gamble will email her weekly newsletter, this one a collection of mother-wisdom, just in time for the holiday. Link here to subscribe.


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by Eavan Boland

Where are the lives we lived

when we were young?

Our kisses, the heat of our skin, our bitter words?

The first waking to the first child’s cry?

With just three questions and four lines, Irish poet Eavan Boland pulls up memories for me so swiftly and so abundantly that the poem acts like an allergen.  I have a physical reaction to reading it. My hearts beats faster and there’s a tingling in my hands that I can work into a tremble with a little concentration. Marcel Proust, the high priest of memory himself, explored similar themes through seven volumes and a million and half words: Boland does it in the seconds it takes to google “Remembrance of Times Past.”

Right away she puts her reader in a wistful mood with the musicality of the first two lines:  “Where are the lives we lived/when we were young?”  Try saying that out loud.   It’s beautiful and intoxicating. The cadence and the emotional pull of those lines remind me of a French phrase my high school boyfriend used to recite after much teasing and begging on my part:  Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?  But where are the snows of yesteryear? 

I didn’t know it then, but that red-headed bespectacled beanpole of a boy who spoke a little French would become the father of my four children, my life’s partner of 30 years, my husband of 23. Like Proust’s madeleine, the smell of sawdust and body odor (we met as the set for the play we were in was being constructed in a boys’ gymnasium) brings me right back to the intensity and ripeness of our early lives.  And so does this poem.

In the last two lines, the tempo picks up. Boland swoops through an overview of courtship and early marriage: the long, long kisses, the rip-your-blouse-off kind of sex, the lovers’ quarrels, the anxiety, exhaustion, and wonder of caring for the first baby.

And then the poem is over, just like that.  Just as quickly as youth has passed for those on the other side.

On a hot summer evening I posted this little cherry of a poem on the seventh hole of a putt-putt golf course.  I do not like putt-putt golf and never have, but I found myself feeling nostalgic about it when I accompanied two of my teenagers and their much younger cousins as they played. The joy of children who shout “Hole in one!”;  the racing from hole to hole to see what kooky obstacles must be played through; the scowls and grins as scores are tallied—it was all so good. And so gone.

my erstwhile baby with size 12 flip-flops


My fantasy was that an overtired parent or even a young couple on a date might happen upon Then and have the same visceral reaction to it that I did.  The fullness and sweetness of life and all that jazz.  Ah, youth!

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