Sunday, May 8, 2016

Four Poems on Motherhood

Mom and me, 1952. Mom was 21 years old.
My mother said she was told that a "good mom is a selfish mom." I would wake up early and she would put me in a playpen and go back to sleep. My cousin Linda would come and take me out and play with me. I would beg Mom to color my favorite coloring book pages, knowing I would only scribble and she could make the picture pretty. She told me to do it myself. 

I did learn to color, quite well in fact.

When our son was born Mom thought I was too weak and easily manipulated, too indulgent. I had to learn to set limits, say no, make demands. Then I was told that parents have to 'line the nest with thorns' to force children to leave the nest and fly. 

Mothers ache to protect their children and smother them with feather hugs, but end up being mean--setting limits and expectations, pushing towards growth and self sufficiency. Instead of being idolized, we are cast into the outer darkness as our children detach and learn independence. It's hard being a mom, for its when we are not needed that we have succeeded. 

Mom in 1970
When my son was little I was still actively writing poetry. Here are four poems I wrote about motherhood.
He is seven now, the child who was so small and perfect
when he was given to me.
Incarnation comes with strings attached,
pain and disappointments,
hard lessons to be learned, illnesses and heartaches.

Today he is learning about bullies and power;
the power we give up, and the power forcefully taken from us.
He tries to articulate the feelings that fill his small breast,
the fears and the questions. And I try to teach him
one more lesson, although I am not certain I know truth from fable.

Day by day, I send him off into the world; questioning
my ability to explain how we live and survive
and surmount life's challenges...

My child was born a perfect model of babyhood,
bright smile under observant eyes, his body flawless.
Today I note his allergic red eyes and the three pockmarks
on his face, the red gum where a new tooth gnaws upward,
and I wonder what lesions are forming in his heart,
and if he will keep them with him for ever

or if they will be healed with only a scar left behind.
A whisper of most tenuous thread
fragile, frail, the feeling of belonging
one to the other

Yet testing, always, endurance,
limits, our own strength
to live apart,

Alone. And fearing to find
it can be done,
one does survive

without the other.
O, Child, you grow so quickly
who once believed me you

And I, Mother, lose you
ever so quietly, an erosion
of bounds, to the world.


I watch my son
go down the corkscrew slide
slowly, slowly turning.

He holds onto the rails
to pace his descent.

In his features I can trace
the toddler’s self-satisfied joy
and wonder.

How much longer will I see there
the face I know so well?

He does not understand how quickly he descends,
who thinks he is moving so slowly.

Let him go slowly, slowly.
Let the child remain.

Let me see in undeveloped features
the eternal possibilities,
the contentment
of merely being.

February 25, 1998


I had believed I would bear light
to the glories of this world,
leading by the hand in small steps
to view sugar plum fairies and robin's eggs
like the pastel illustrations in a book.

I did not know I would be
also the first bearer of darkness,
teacher of life's many small cruelties.

Steel heart, o sharp and needle-like!

And that small face seeking in mine
consolation, questioning love,
his eager kisses, smothered in them,
each like an electric volt.
I am forgiven of necessity,
held greater than disappointment;
for how long, I wonder.

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