My Mother’s Stories

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I do not care if my daughter

forgets all my empty stories

of blank cityscapes,

of colorless times,

of limping struggles.

 

My daughter must remember–

remember, keep alive

stories of her grandmother,

stories of lineage, of place, of era,

of strength in women, in family,

of struggle containing meaning

like Jacob’s struggle by the river—

stories living in her DNA,

strengthening the helix of her history.

 

She must remember,

pass on to her progeny with pride

in her spirit living, not here in this place,

in this dusty Lonestar state,

but among those mountains

bathed in stained glass colors

at sunrise and sunset,

or smeared gauzy blue at noon,

or at times, shrouded in grieving fog.

 

So many times, I have watched my daughter sleeping,

a toddler she seems still at twenty-three–

I marvel at how that can be–

Her lips parted just a bit, slightly swollen in sleep,

her lashes long, thick, and dark against her cheek,

so like her grandmother’s lashes,

a trait I did not inherit,

her breathing whispers youthful innocence,

her tousled hair that of a child wearied from play–                                                

And I— I believe I see some ghost umbilical cord stretching

from her, leaving the house, and could I travel it,

follow it—I know where it should lead me–

a black cinder block house on stilts somewhere

miles outside Charleston, West Virginia—

so far up into the mountains

that as we drove the one time I saw it

I felt tilted back as if for

a rocket take off to some distant star—

my aunt’s eyes send a flood down the valleys of her face,

my mother gasping at sight of that tall cinder block house,

narrow and black with four small windows in the front,

unfriendly and uninviting it appears to me,

as it stands in the dirt yard

with a single clothesline, tires,

some chickens pecking the dirt around the stilts,

contrasting the lush green mountain top

touching the sky behind it.

My recalcitrant 13-year-old self thinks–

How the fuck does someone build

a cinder block house on stilts like that? 

And black?  Why black? 

This is where the ghost umbilical cord

leaving my daughter leads me,

this place, this link to the earth—

to the spirit within this earth

where her grandmother,

my mother grew,

nurtured by the dirt, the green mountain tops,

the harshness of poverty in harsh times,

coal mines and cave ins, winter fevers,

spring forest escapes from ideas

of death and survival.

 

Where I too am linked,

bound even as I struggled

to free myself for so many years.

Now, at this age, I know it was this spirit, this link,

that poured its strength into me

when I needed it though my youth

scrubbed me of the wisdom to recognize it.

 

My daughter must know her grandmother’s stories,

of how hope lived in an election during the Great Depression,

her great-grandfather forbid even his wife to take a switch

to of one his children on the day of FDR’s election,

of how death can be heard walking the floors of empty rooms

when the family gathers round a dying toddler,

of how potato sack dresses itch,

of how her great-grandfather built the cinder block house

after a snow melt flood washed away the wood house

and nearly killing himself thinking he had lost his family,

of how to hunt rabbits and skin them,

of how squirrel tastes better than possum,

of how to hold your head when you

ask the company store man for credit,

of how grief over the death of twin toddlers

can turn your mother silent

of how your father explains the death of children

kills a mother’s heart,

of how an orange for Christmas is the greatest of all treasure,

of how it is tedious work to darn socks,

of how joyful it feels to go without shoes in the summer,

of how rich and important you can feel

when new shoes arrive in the fall,

of how when a boy asks to escort you home from church,

you better not walk more than six feet in front of your mother,  

of how to watch for your shoeless mother walking home

in the snow from the Post Office in Charleston because

you know she only wears her shoes to church to keep them good,

and how to warm her feet so she doesn’t lose anymore toes—

 

All these stories and more,

my daughter must know

must remember,

breathe and bleed life

in the telling of them to her children

for they are woven, a tapestry,

double helix patterned within us,

our earthen souls.

 

 

 

 

 

July

Image courtesy of O’Conner Mortuary

 

I’d nail all the windows in that month shut.

Board the place completely up.

All closed and shuttered,

Leaving it to the dust and rot.

July—the only summer month

I’d abandon

The month forced me to abandon you—

How is a starving  child forced to leave

A mother who sold herself

So the child could eat?

Thus, I cared for you

Until I had to reach out and close your eyes—

Then I dreamed

Dreamed–

I nailed the windows in every room shut

And I boarded up every room.

I took a hammer to that floor to ceiling avocado green tile

Of the kitchen tomb,

Shattering every single inch

Of mirror green shine.

I brought the garden hose in

And hosed down all our scars

Until yours and mine

Nearly disappeared.

Then I woke

And buried you

Under roses

In hot, steamy July

Shuttering you away

Until I thought there’d

Be nothing left of you.

But you are always here.

I pick the good of you

From the rubble,

See little bits of you

In each of your grandchildren.

I see bits of you in my daughter,

And our legacy is not only

One of scars.

Dear Robert Frost

Image is my own. Taken at the Hockney/ Van Gogh exhibit

VJ’s Weekly Challenge: roads – One Woman’s Quest II (onewomansquest.org)

Before this moment,

All roads coalesced into one,

The present, the now.

Then,

Seeing this wall of roads,

I cannot help but ask

Where each road would have, could have

Led.

Different places, people–

Certainly, yes.

The mind swirls,

Possibilities,

A Tilt-A-Whirl—

A daughter lost?

The fetal tissue of a son not lost?

A different daughter born?

A heart not broken by cancer?

All the rewinds and fast forwards

Of a life lived down different roads

Of different choices made along each way–

All the differences of each win and loss

And every other thing implied by this wall

And dear Robert Frost—

The choices I’ve made

Gave me this now,

This daughter,

For whom I would give my life,

Rather than trade.

Baltimore

Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine

Pulled my anchor from this harbor
Years ago.
Yet the current pulls me back,
Some irritant speck,
Yet to yield a pearl,
In the soul,
Some rough edged
Needless need chafes away
Until confession is made
And a pilgrimage to graves
Must be paid—

There is no why to this–
This steel wrought laundry list
To be run down and checked through

A visit, a meal eaten
At the landmark restaurant,
Where new owners chiseled hieroglyphics
over a history of years when
the landmark lived across
A narrow brick paved street
And my family lived upstairs,
Erasing my mother’s sacrifice
Of bloody fetal tissue,
My fraternal twin,
On the bathroom floor there
While I hung on to be born.
But such bloody sacrifice
Doesn’t sell cheeseburgers,
Greek salads, and over easy eggs,
A fairytale of family ownership-
Sells well and makes for spots
On reality television shows.

A drive by the childhood home,
Sentimentality at its highest,
Revisit the torture chamber
It became—
A wooden yardstick and when it broke,
A metal one I had to buy to be taken
Across my back by a drunken mother
Until the skin broke open to bleed.
.
Why the drive by?
Who the hell knows?
When all I’d like to see
Is it all disappear—

Then the statue of Christ
In Hopkins Hospital lobby, a must see.
Where I stood as a teen
Confessing the darkest
Thing upon my soul—
A part of me wishing
My mother had died
In that surgery of fifteen hours
The other part thanking Jesus
she had lived.

Then the graves,
To place some flowers,
Talk a bit to the air,
Turn my soul inside out
To find it dusty and dirty again.
We can think our souls clean
Until turning them inside out—
That is where we find the grime
Of all the living done.

I visit my brothers,
The man who was my real father,
Then on to the man I thought was,
And then my mother,
The saint she was,
The monster she became.
At her grave, my soul aches the most,
Tweezing thorns left from her old rose bushes and my own,
Turning itself inside out,
Leaving all the grime and dirt behind,
Or so it feels.

Then on to visit with what is left of the living.
And though, I love the living,
There is little, so little–
To charm me into staying.
But the currents, the tides
Of some blood element,
Like an ancient memory,
Bring me back
From time to time.

This is Baltimore—
for me.

 

Words for You

image courtesy opmat.org.au

https://onewomansquest.org/2020/05/18/vjs-weekly-challenge-96-circling/

 

Circle through the years of youth

Find the gems along the streams

Of your years, my love.

Collect them in a basket,

Keep them close.

When the time comes

Give each away to your

Young ones.

Make each a gift,

Tied with ribbons

Of what you dream

And all of your

Wishes

For them.

As I have given

All my words

As a gift

Tied with ribbons

Of my dream

Of love

And my wish

Of happiness

For you,

My love,

My gift,

My daughter.

The Perfect Legend

image courtesy of windowtoparadise.com

Written in response to Eugi’s Weekly Prompt-

“Legend”- April 20, 2020

The day you left,

You became a legend

In the child’s heart.

True, she was a woman/child

By that time, but you—

Dying too young,

You became a legend,

Crafted to perfection

In her child’s heart.

Her memory forging steel

Fiction tales of your deeds

With iron ore dust of truth.

And I became the villain,

Who had neither the words,

The charms, the incantations

For healing to whisper

Over your body,

Nor had I the spells

To cast so you would live.

Thus, I was guilty of crimes against

Humanity in the book where she kept

A record of all my misdeeds, sins, crimes.

And now, she is grown.

A woman now and she finds

I am just a little less guilty,

Not so much the criminal,

In the present.

But you,

You will always be

The perfect legend.

My Toddler Sleeping

I watch you,

My daughter, my little one,

Sleeping in the middle of the night,

Such innocence,

The face of a toddler,

Dark, long lashes resting on your cheeks,

Mouth slightly agape, full lips sleep swollen.

Yes, the face of a toddler still,

Washed clean of makeup,

The worldly expressions of an adulthood

You were so eager to grasp, to snatch

As if it were the golden ring.

Now, at twenty-one, you’ve decided

I am not so bad.

Perhaps it was all a mother/daughter thing.

In the morning, I’ll wake you.

We’ll go about daily things.

But for now, for now,

I’ll watch my toddler sleeping.

At Christmas Eve Service

My daughter, at twenty-one, stands to my right.
The gentleman to my left turns to light my candle.
I do not know him, in that moment he is a friend.
I turn to my daughter, and with the small flame of my candle,
Light the candle she holds.

I lift my eyes to look upon her face and I know.
I feel it within me. A tiny spark jumps back
As I think of my own mother and wonder.
Did she ever look at me and feel that light, that flame inside?
Feel that spark of her soul live inside me?

It matters not what I have left undone:
No trip to Paris, No months spent living in Europe,
No books published, Nothing I wish for is important.
Nothing I long for matters to be lived, matters to be accomplished.
I have accomplished all that truly matters
And I can be at peace with any death
because
My daughter lives.

Time

image from istock

Time broke,
And you were there,
Black and white upon a screen,
Seeming to tumble
In time to the thump, thump
From a machine.

Time split in half,
And you were there,
Barely a teen,
Trying on a mountain of jeweled dresses
Frowning and sighing.
Finally smiling
After reluctantly putting on a dress
I asked, “Just try it, please?”

Time shattered,
And there you were,
Clattering down the hall,
Your tiny toddler feet
In my size nine heels.

Time wrecked,
And there you were,
An adolescent sleeping,
Lips parted,
A fist clutching a beloved stuffed bunny,
So grown, yet so tiny still.

Time crumbled,
And you were there
In your toddler car seat,
Sobbing, fat toddler tears
For we had no food
To give the homeless man on the corner.
So, we drove through McDonald’s and bought a meal for him.
Your tears stopped. You smiled as I handed him the meal.
But the incongruity of your toddler voice admonished,
“Next Sunday, after church, we need to buy a healthy meal
And bring it to him. McDonald’s isn’t healthy to eat all the time.”

Time exploded,
And there you were,
Sitting in a swing, hands reaching for the sky;
Crying in my arms, heart breaking for the first time;
Laughing on Saturday morning, maple syrup running down your chin;
Praying the Lord’s prayer in church, brow furrowed in toddler earnestness.


Time coalesced,
Healing its broken,
Shattered,
Split,
Wrecked,
Crumbled,
Exploded
Self.

Time mended,
Leaving us broken
In its wake
To find ourselves—
Mother, aged
And daughter, grown
To know each other
Again.

The Prodigal

Motherhood erased
The caesarean scar, the only trace,
A testament to what once was,
It holds a degree of lingering numbness
After these twenty years:
Nerves that cannot reconnect
To a self without motherhood.
Yes, a touch of numbness
As the child with her mother’s face
Turns away, rejecting the truth teller,
Rejecting the baptism of love, of name, of tears.

Let the child walk away.
Perhaps in losing her way,
She will find the path back,
A way to recognize being found
In the reflection of her own face.