I agree with Patton Oswalt’s 7 year-old daughter, Alice, after the passing of her mother Michelle McNamara, “When your mom dies you’re the best memory of her. Everything you do and say is a memory of her.” In honor of Mother’s Day I am sharing some of my poetry written over the years to my mother.
Growing up in my mom’s shadow I learned to express myself, try new things, and to be creative. She taught me to dance through life with love and laughter pouring out freely. I learned to be strong, brave and to realize a time would come when there would be nothing left but to accept death. My mom taught me to see the beauty in everything and in people. She expressed her beauty on canvas. My expression is on paper with words.
I should have been still.
I knew that, but I was fascinated
by the woman beside me.
I could not help but watch as she pulled
candy from her purse, piece by piece.
“Would you like some?” she inquired.
“Ask her if it’s poisoned.”
And so I did.
She replied quite simply, “No.”
And so we ate some.
Chewing, I heard my father’s voice
approaching around the corner.
I heard wheels rolling
and realized that mother was with him.
Looking at her lying in bed
with nurses pushing carts, connected to tubes
that punctured her body,
I searched her for a shadow
and found she had none.
The whiteness of the sheets had eaten her shadow,
and the dark rings around her eyes
had grown since last.
I became painfully aware of the small piece of candy
melting in my mouth.
I wanted to hide it, but it was too late.
I felt a warmness come over my shoulder
and sensed that the woman from the waiting room
was beside me waiting to greet my mother.
Smiling, she told my mother about our “poisoned” candy.
Much to my surprise, mother wasn’t mad
instead she laughed through streams of tears
as she held us tight against her bones and body.
It was in that moment that I began to realize
that it was the two of us wrapped in her arms
that were willing her to live.
My Mother’s Shadow
The women who have passed through my life
as my mother’s friends were warm breezes
of eccentric flavors.
They danced in and out of our lives
with flaming laughter.
The women I remember called me girlfriend
and giggled long hours with my mother.
My ears always open and alert.
We spent our days in painting rooms and kitchens
eating all the sins we were not allowed at home.
I remember them laughing, but I know
there were times in which they cried.
It was the way they faced life
that makes me remember their laughter.
They were strong women, strong enough
to be eccentric and dance through life with us.
A 15 Minute Break at John’s Landing Mall
It was Mother’s Day
and I was calling to tell her that
I loved her and to have a happy day.
She could hear that I was terribly sad,
falling apart inside.
She asked me about my plans, and I told her that I had none,
said I couldn’t make any because
I had left this body in order not to cry in public places.
Right there as I answered her, my emotions crashed down on me
leaving me speechless as I gulped for air
and found I had none.
Momma tried to stretch
her arms through the phone lines.
She listened to my voice break as I
cried alone on a public phone
in a mall filled with strangers.
I stared at the freight elevator and dreamed
that it could take me far enough
to reach Momma, help me pass through
the thousands of miles that separated us
so she could actually hold me.
I cried into the tiny holes of the public telephone,
splashing my mother’s face with the sorrow of a child
she could not hold, and she nearly cried too
when I told her that even the kitten had died.
But what could she do.
The buzz of the phone grew louder
as we called out to each other, “I love you.”
And then there was silence.
And I was left standing alone, crying in a mall of strangers.
She is My Mother
She is my mother,
And no other title can ever
Explain the depth of my love for her,
But the title mother.
I am grateful that she survives,
That we both survived her concurrent pregnancy and cancer.
I am thankful for every day I come home to find her,
For every day she picks up the phone to say, “Well, hello Kayla”
With a singsong joy that fills her at the sound of my voice.
I am thankful for everyday she occupies this life,
Concurrently with mine.
The Woman in Your Girl
The woman in your girl
is coming center stage now.
You must become acquainted with her.
Your girl is bowing
as she walks off stage.
The stage is filling with the woman now
and the vanishing skirts of your girl.
You must clap.
You may cry.
But you must welcome the woman.
Eating toast Keegan exclaims,
“I made a bridge!”
I look on his plate literally
expecting to find two pieces of toast
supporting a third.
I don’t see it.
Keegan gleefully announces,
“Look, I made a bridge!”
In his sticky hand he holds
a jelly covered piece of toast
out of which he has taken a very large bite.
He turns it over to display his bridge.
Across the table I see the smiling faces
of my parents, proud grandparents.
Keegan smiles and quietly repeats,
“I made a bridge.”
And this time I see the magnitude
of the bridge he has built.
I must learn my own language of motherhood,
find the words that fit comfortably
around my tongue.
I have listened to the voice of my mother
and extracted from her words a version
of my own motherhood, separate and different
than hers, however familiar.
I am claiming my own language.
I am protecting my round belly
with my skin, my hands and my decisions.
I am harvesting love, planting seeds of strength,
raking my mind for words to till.
I am weaving my motherhood from my past,
the present and our future.
It is nearly impossible
to think of you in the past tense.
Your life is colorfully woven into the fabric of ours.
I know you are gone.
I saw you leave,
but in my memory you are vividly alive
with your mischievous smile
teasing the corners of your mouth.
Saying, “She was…”
doesn’t fit comfortably on my tongue yet,
because you left bold strokes upon my life.
I see you alive all around me.
You left in the impression
you left upon your grandchildren.
Your life is etched in the laugh lines
worn deeply into my father from a lifetime
of joy shared with “the love of his life.”
I see you in the bold brush strokes you left on canvas
and the lives you touched.
I can hear you in the language of my motherhood
and the dialect of my life.
I feel your strength that you wove deep
into the hearts of my brother and I,
because you always knew that you would leave us too soon.
Death may have taken you,
but what you left behind
will echo in our lives
for generations to come.
from When I Was Young I Flew the Sun Like a Kite copyright 2012 Kayla Fioravanti