—Patricia Hickerson, Davis
To get born in a coal camp takes guts.
My mother rode a horse straight up the mountainside to get born here.
She rode on a coal train to get here.
She rode in a hay wagon to get here
she rode muleback
she slung herself over a donkey’s hip
she rode the wind and screamed like an eagle
she dove through the sky
she yanked clouds around and re-channeled rivers
she clawed icicles off mountaintops
she did not come gentle into this hard life
she rode the tail of a giant possum
she straddled a cat’s ass
she came galloping full bent round the turn driving hard day
and night to get born here
black hair like satin ropes snapping in the wind
eyes like sky blue marbles glittering in the sun
she was a length of dynamite
long and red and lean like her mama and papa
this is where she charged out of Mammaw’s belly
in late December 1905 in a coal camp in Westbourne TN
She was a human fireball,
not a baby.
(previously published in Passager)
Welcome to a special Mother's Day Edition of Medusa's Kitchen, and thanks to our many contributors, including Michelle Kunert for the pix, and all the poets for their rich, varied viewpoints of the roles their mothers played in their lives. (Still to come: Mother's Day Edition, Part Two, with Joyce Odam, on Monday.)
Once when visiting my grandma on her May birthday
she answered the door with a blissful grin
and a sparkling look in her eyes like love
"Oh Michelle, I want you to meet Mr. Lincoln—
just follow me out to the yard..."
I held my breath a moment and thought
"OMG, Grandma's got a boyfriend?"
Well, her husband died before I was born
but I was now about twenty-four
Perhaps in a way it was something I hoped for,
her not spending any more time "alone"
Instead of spending meals at the table with her cats
now she would share with a partner
Surely didn't a sweet woman like her deserve to?
I hoped I was mature enough to handle it
Yet frightening thoughts also did instantly race
such as what if it was a young man she fancied
with a kind of "Harold and Maude" concept
instead of another widowed man around her age
I did fear I might gasp and say, "Why, you dirty old woman..."
as he perhaps sat there in her garden having tea
Also why didn't she phone me before about her guest?
For such a meeting I wasn't even dressed my best
as perhaps I would be on a Sunday
Though my tee and jeans were clean
I tried to compose myself
Then I was suddenly dismayed to see "Mr. Lincoln"
It was a present of a new red rose bush
and she wanted help planting it
But never did a rose disappoint me so before
and make me cry tears
as she looked at me, confused...
—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento
A mother who'd abuse her child with
"I should have had an abortion"
doesn't have anything else to show
for her own pathetic life
Her "unwanted" child can grow up to be
redemption for her sin
for the sacrifice of choosing to give life
rather than death
and the child should have the right
to remind her so
If you realize you have nothing
on this earth without me
Yet still you hate me
rather than have love
perhaps I was born for the purpose
of being given to someone else
THINGS MY MOM LIKES TO SAY TO ME
Make your bed.
Come to breakfast.
What are you wearing?
Don’t talk like that.
Wash your hands.
Cut your fingernails.
Do your work.
Get your feet off that.
Why are you asking this?
Can you not...
No more philosophy.
Go to bed.
I love you.
—Ann Wehrman, Sacramento
When I think of her,
my jaw tightens and draws down
and I need to cry.
I want to peer
underneath the pall
that obscures my memories
of her life that ended in misery—
although she would protest, saying
she was often gay
and that she loved deeply.
But I remember
the sad, toothless face
so lonely, missing even the fights with Dad.
I remember her
hazy alcoholic stupors,
the bitter confidences, when I was just a child.
I begin to understand
that she felt and did
so much more than she showed me;
I recognize everywhere
the intricate web of her influence,
I recognize the depths of her
passion, rage, self-loathing;
I hesitate, in fury and compassion,
to raise the cover of her shame.
the last long visit with Mom
at the granny cottage,
where she helped Dad chose death over
spending the rest of his life
hooked up to a machine,
where my brother and his “friends”
raged, drank, knocked a hole in the wall
broke Mom’s rib
I came after that incident,
stayed with her a year
until she would have me no more
and I could take it no longer
bladder loss but too proud to wear a diaper
got a dog, refused to clean up after it
let my brother come by after I’d gotten a restraining order
rich, precious moments remain
capping a lifetime’s memories
of my brilliant, passionate Mom
our strange, deep bond
because of forgiveness, compassion
since leaving home as a teen,
I’d found God, from whom she turned away
nursing decades of bitterness and black fear
so much so that I hope
that for her, dying
finally, in her sleep—
alone, in her white gown,
oxygen tank by the bed,
cigarettes on the nightstand—
lessened that fear’s grip
finding forgiveness in life after this
but first, for a year living together
in her small cottage—
morning mugs of coffee prepared just so
I brought to her,
cleaned her body,
still firm and surprisingly lovely,
for the first weeks after the heart attack
despite the nicotine-ravaged face
we played cards and chess into the night,
talked, although never about God
I huddled in the car when she proved
she could still demolish me, sneering
you’re too old, fat, and ugly to find a man
waiting for her to come home with her walker
the final day of her last job
one bad night, we argued over whether or not
she had molested me as a child
I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer
afterward, things were never the same
so full of regret for her life, her lonely end
feeling her agony keenly, like my own
feeling it in my own body
yet not mine, nor my life
I had to let her go
let her die alone
never saying goodbye
ON MOTHER’S DAY
so in the end
the feminine part of God
becomes my mom
holding me when I ache
reminding me how to be a woman
helping me survive
upholding my faith in myself
when I have none left to uphold
for Momist’s Day
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
Momisms originated, some maintain, on
the profanely mobile lips of Moms Mabley.
I contend that Momism is a much more
archaic outlook, philosophy far older than
Thomism (oh so fatherly-brethrenly).
The true Momist will overlook, or,
contrarily, swoop down hard upon, childhood
fetishes, taboos, foibles, and sins of which
the adept and casuistic Thomist has
no conception, not a jot. Thomists
make angels dance pinpoint; Momists
can pierce layers of gospel tissue, rupture
scholastic fabric like Playtex with one stab
of that same pin, sterilizing needle
and vaporizing militant bristling angel
in one cold fury.
One can only mime, perhaps maim through
injudicious transmission of meme,
the life and love or horror story a woman
enacts perforce, involved in Momist dealings
via the engorged womb and moan of parturition,
a rending seeming to her more agonized
than India’s and Pakistan’s partition. I speak
from the receiving end of the Momist flathand.
Woe unto the world of Me if ever
I-Child snitched so much as a Snickers snack.
In such early hurry-burlies, I deemed it
prudent to scuttle, duck or vanish
at a Momist’s notice
or any time the Mome rath outgrabe.
(this title was triggered by the term "Momism" on Medusa's Kitchen last Tuesday)
MOTHER’S DAY NEAR THE MINES
—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove
The birds here fly close to the ground.
They can hear the soft sounds of the drills
From far below the earth and it is a cooing
To them, the whisper of the mother from
Her womb and it is soothing to them.
Each will hear in their own way and
Song will change with every breath
The dear earth takes as it celebrates
The mother while far below the earth
There is a cooing, a whisper once again
From the great mother, it is a hymn.
And I see the birds come sliding, they
Come easy on the wind and hover here
Above us and they gather us all in
And deep within and far below the earth
There comes a sound, a quiet kind of cooing,
A dark but gentle cooing, neither soft
But not too loud, then a whisper once again
And it is the greatest mother, she who calls
Across the din of morning and gathers us all in.
(continuing his conversation with Taylor Graham)
LESSONS FROM HOME
—Katy Brown, Davis
In the end, she was a toothless lion,
holding only as much power
as I was willing to give over.
I spent so much time in childhood
hiding in almond trees or on the roof,
avoiding her anger,
that I failed to notice when she
could no longer reach me,
no longer injure me—
until one day, she was at risk
from someone close to her.
I stepped between
to defend her without reservation—
with strength I learned from her,
fight I learned from her.
I may not like what others do,
but I learned from her
to love the person, if not the deeds they do.
MY MOTHER WAS A TEACHER
I learned many lessons from my mother
as I was growing up.
I learned to tell the truth:
Your brother is more brilliant
than you will ever be.
I learned to live by priorities:
I’ll come to your play tomorrow night,
I have bridge tonight.
I learned not to over-estimate my worth:
When I was your age,
I was cooking for the ranch.
The needs of the many outweigh the few:
I have to get my lesson plans together,
ask your father to help you.
I learned things could be worse:
Stop that crying or
I’ll really give you something to cry about.
I learned to accept limitations:
I didn’t come to see you,
hospitals are too depressing.
I learned the value of my own company:
I don’t have time for you today,
go find something to do.
I learned the importance of a good education:
You will never amount to anything
with grades like this.
I used to read the encyclopedia for fun
and learned that
many species eat their young.
October 29, 2004
My mother’s face is on the shadowed moon tonight.
Thirteen years after laying her to rest, she comes—
rising on the golden sphere–
drifting above a dark skyline on the near-full surface.
Distant now as she was in life, she watches:
a petroglyph drawn with indirect light on the airless moon,
her enigmatic gaze neither warm nor harsh.
What calls her to this autumn sky tonight?
—Danyen Powell, Davis
set in my heart