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Posts Tagged ‘Mother’s Day’

. . . 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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poem is next to red roses

poem is next to red roses

[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]

by Christina Rossetti

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Image 2

 

I’m lucky this Mother’s Day weekend to be visiting my mother in Maryland, lucky to celebrate this day with her in person for the first time in twenty years at least.

 

And when one is lucky, one can’t help but think of those who aren’t so lucky. Daughters who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their mothers. And mothers who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

 

I was thinking of those mothers in particular when, on a walk near my mother’s house, I came across this tribute to a young man named Noah Marks who died January 1 this year. I gathered from the assembled objects and notes that he was a lovely young man, talented, a lover of baseball and bow ties, theater and running. I also gathered that his death was a suicide.

 

I thought of his mother, how difficult every day is for her, and how hard this first Mother’s Day without Noah will be. I went back home, printed this poem, and returned to the pedestrian bridge to leave it with the other mementos.

 

To the mother of Noah Marks and to the wonderful mothers I know who have also lost beautiful young sons to suicide, Happy Mother’s Day. This line of Rossetti’s will surely call up sweet memories of your babies:

To my first love, my Mother

That’s a soul-expanding thought for any mother. And also this:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Mothers are mothers forever, whether or not children are around to send flowers or take them to brunch. A mother’s love for her children–past, present, and future love, love that will never end–marks her indelibly. Nothing can ever take away the beauty and blessing of that love. It’s a love to be honored and celebrated.

 

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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my progenitor and my progeny

my progenitor and my progeny

I always have a lot to celebrate on Mother’s Day. My mother, 88 and still funny and sharp, is a woman I’d consider myself lucky to even know, much less to claim as mother. I’ve got four older sisters who mothered me each in their own way, a wonderful mother-in-law, and an aunt-in-law I love as my own.

 

That’s a lot of mothers. I’ve collected even more poems about mothers. I posted a few around town to celebrate and to give tribute to everyone who’s opened their heart to mother another human.

 

I started at a florist, where I left Julia Kasdorf’s poem, “What I Learned From My Mother.”

 

poem is leaning against green vase

poem is leaning against green vase

 

Because the beautiful last lines are a little blurred in the photograph, I’ll highlight them here.

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.

Image 1

 

 

A cemetery (a favorite poem-elfing spot) seemed like a good spot for Ron Padgett’s “The Best Thing I Did.”

poem is on tree in foreground

poem is on tree in foreground

 

Truer words were never written:

The best thing I did

for my mother

was to outlive her

IMG_1377

 

 

In the tiny dressing room of Nordstrom Rack, I left two poems with a similar theme, Walter de la Mare’s “Full Circle,” and Anna Kamienska’s “Mother and Me.”

IMG_1373

 

I find de la Mare’s poem terrifying and sweet at once.

IMG_1371

 

 

Kamienska’s poem is simple and beautiful:

true understanding

is always silence.

 

IMG_1369

 

 

For mothering that never gets acknowledged, I left Maggie Anderson’s “Sonnet for Her Labor” in a discounted Mother’s Day card bin:

poem is in 50% off bin

poem is in 50% off bin

 

Laurel Mountain must not have had a Hallmark store.

IMG_1384

 

 

Another mother who’s lived a hard life is given a voice in Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son.” I left the poem in the football stands of a local high school, to offer a little encouragement to any youngster overwhelmed by difficulties.

IMG_1389

 

 

I’ve loved this poem for so long. I hope it finds its way to someone who needs it.

 

 

IMG_1387

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!  Go forth and mother.

 

 

 

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Forgive me a little bragging about my mother’s day presents.

They may not look like much, but as with people, what’s inside holds the most importance.

 

Let’s open the book first.  I read once that Jackie Kennedy had her children hand-copy and illustrate a poem every year for her birthday.  These she kept in a scrapbook.  I’ve never been a big Jackie fan—her affected whisper suggests manipulative tendencies—-but she did shine in tragedy and motherhood.  Fortunately it’s only her character in the latter state that I’ve had cause to imitate, so nine years ago I asked my children to start a poetry book for me.

 

Some years the book sits dormant.  Then one of them will remember the project and I’ll get the lovely surprise I did last Sunday.  Here’s a page from this year:

When I asked Lizzie why she chose this poem, she said she loves “crazy Ruth Stone.” But I suspect she also loves the word “orifices.”

 

Sometimes the kids write an original poem.  (My son has found cause to rhyme “great mother” and “Dad’s lover.”)  Here’s the first part of an original poem written in the book this Mother’s Day:

Yes, you read that right.  “She waddled and pushed.”  Might be good on my tombstone.

 

The rest of the poem is too personal to include here.  But I will mention (bragging again) that the structure is not only intricate, it’s color-coded too.

 

The Twinings tea box rattled when shaken.  I couldn’t imagine what was inside.  Really I couldn’t, could never, because here’s the contents:

 

Aren’t they wonderful?  Now I have to come up with a creative plan to use them.  If you have any ideas, or if you want one, let me know.

 

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Toys

Just wanted to show off my new stamp.  From now on, I’ll be stamping the backs of poems.  If someone should chance upon one, they’ll know where the poem comes from.  But I still have a backlog of two or three few poems before I launch the stamp.

My little elves, too, will be appearing from time to time.  They are a Mother’s Day gift from my daughter. The man she bought them from seemed to think they were human (“The little fellas will be coming soon,” he emailed her), and it’s rubbing off on me.  I want to name them.  Suggestions are welcome.

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Jane at the door with my other Mother's Day gift

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