I’ve been writing a daily poem for more than six years. Many mornings, I find myself writing poems about my difficulty with writing poems and saying something new, one of my many obsessions. My poems are often an intersection of my history and today’s events. I hope to arrive at an unexpected insight.
Crown Palinode for Mother
I want to tell you, Thank you. Mother,
when I was too shy to order,
you said I could only get my malted
milk if I asked for it. There was no other
way to learn to live than by trying
out the skills I’d need. Go ahead, you said,
and showed me mistakes weren’t worth crying
over. Do it again. I learned to thread
the needle, my way through life. You sewed
my clothes and taught joy amid my father’s
misery. Nothing was too much bother
if it was a challenge. This was joy’s code.
I’m sorry my poems until now
have been angry. You taught me, “Don’t kowtow!”
I have been angry. I couldn’t kowtow
to all your teachings. Some were too crazy.
Isn’t growing up overturning sacred cows,
risking being told you’re lame and lazy?
Every generation, the same:
kids tear down what their parents built and then
later come to see the old folks were sane
in ways they didn’t consider back when
their hormones raged. In poems, many times,
I showed your suffocating ways, more
critical than praising, focused on your crimes
against us. How you yelled before
you had all the facts. I know you only did
what you knew and was done to you as a kid.
Who knew what was done to you as a kid?
For years! You looked askance on religion,
and readily said superstition
to ghosts. Yet where could I find peace amid
the hauntings of that house? “Black cats are not bad luck.
Ignorance is the real sin.
Work hard and finish what you begin.
Don’t worry about broken mirrors. What fuck-
ing ignorance.” (She really spoke like that.)
“Don’t let people sway you toward stupidity.
Read everything before you sign. You can bet
they will try to cheat you. Necessity
is the mother of invention.” Oh, dear.
And now I’m complaining about your fears.
And now I’m complaining about your fears
again, Mom, as before. I’m sorry I go there.
This was meant as an homage to you, I swear.
You made sure your daughters wouldn’t scare
easily, as most women do. “You set the rules
for how you’re treated. And you stay in school.”
Grateful now for skills you passed along,
I can take care of myself, I long
though, sometimes, for a partner, one-half a team.
But, as you know, “a good man’s hard to find.”
You can’t say I didn’t look or take extreme
measures to find a match. Never mind
“love is blind.” I kept my eyes open.
Heaven knows, once known, no one’s a bargain.
Maybe if I wasn’t looking for a bargain
I’d have found a mate— not one to please you
but one with whom I could have fallen
deeply in love. You hoped for rich. You
didn’t talk about tenderness or a gentle
spirit, a man who might be a good father
to my children. You married a mental
case. I’m not accusing you for my other
troubles in life— I thank you, really--
for teaching me to sew and making me cook
when I was young, so I didn’t later look
at fresh vegetables as something scary.
You said I could learn anything from a book.
You didn’t live to see me write my book.
You never lived to see me write a book,
nor hear my poetry. Yet I thank you.
Before I could read or understand, you took
me to the library and checked out books. You
were a model, reading in your spare time.
You learned to knit, lay linoleum, hang
wallpaper from library books. You shined
with pleasure every time you got the hang
of some new task—from making arancini
to installing zippers in our clothes.
I talk still about you, Mom. Linguine
with broccoli makes me think of you. What shows
are the ways you did right by me. You did.
With you as mother, I was a lucky kid.
My friends’ mothers never taught them as kids
the basic skills of survival, how to care
for themselves. Some are already on the skids,
in bankruptcy. You taught me how to share
with others, to notice need, and step up
as you did, when you weren’t well yourself.
I’m glad we had your last months close up
to tell our truths and reveal ourselves
in ways that must have been strange to you.
Near death, you worried about my future
and who would care for me, as I cared for you.
I worry too. At least we had good closure.
And what I didn’t/wouldn’t say to father,
I want to tell you: Thank you, Mother.
published in the winter issue (#6) of Conclave: A Journal of Character, November 2013.
© 2018 Joan Mazza
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