I do not need to summon that one—
it returns to me as regularly as the valleys
in between the hills.  There’s Mum again
sorting laundry, one eye to whatever’s
boiling over on the stove.  The latest baby
has awakened, cries like toothache. Probably
needs changing.  Is that someone at the door?

And where am I?  Slouched on the couch
reading yet another story of some other life.
Suddenly she’s there, Mum looming over me
and a hard whack smacks across my face:
“Who do you think you are?  Get your nose
out of that book!  Make yourself useful!”  Why,
I wonder, is her voice so crazy, full of hate?

As suddenly, she’s gone.  I am ten years old.
Big red drops fall to the open page upon my lap.
Swallowing blood, I raise my arm and dab my
nose upon my sleeve, lean my head back to
stop the flow.  What will I tell the old librarian
about these stains that happened to her book?
I stand, a little wobbly.  Go and help.  Only later

do I see how certain words like Love and True
began to grow unmeaningful that day.  Poetry
slipped quietly away.  Usefulness ate the better
part of time until, after half a dozen decades of
the kind of sweet obedience that kills, in age I find
poetry again, sufferance, compassion to forgive—
though Mum is dead, and that old memory still lives.

30 responses »

  1. what a generous poem, Cynthia! Telling the truth of our life strengthens and encourages all of us.
    As I read and re-read this poem, I am struck by its sober, clean lines of truth, inner and outer and the journey this moment so many years ago set you on. So painful to read this little girl’s pain. I have heard this story and am so glad you are telling it in verse for us all. Thank you!

    • I recall a conversation when we marveled at the healing power of compassion–which, from the Latin, means “suffering together”. You are a listener who really hears, and I thank you in return.

  2. My comment might come across as somewhat utilitarian but >>>> Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

    It’s wonderful that with age, she received much – including the gift of compassion to forgive.

    Peace and blessings, Cynthia dear,

    • Oh my…I haven’t thought about Maslow since he was a fad in the 1970’s. Maybe because I considered him a hustler making hay in academia out of what was really common sense. But if we bring Maslow’ s Hierarchy of Needs into the discussion of this particular poem, maybe we should also throw in Bloom’ s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Cognitive and Affective.
      Just sayin’.
      Have a great weekend, Eric. 🙂

  3. Hi Cynthia, what a beautiful moving poem about such a traumatic experience, (the smack that caused the nose bleed) and how your mother effected your life. So many years of obedience! Now you don’t have to obey anymore and you can read and write poetry ! You have forgiven her I think which is very generous. A big hug {{{{ Cynthia }}}}

  4. Cynthia, this is a brave poem in my opinion and, needless to say but saying it anyway, very well written as always. To be able to bring out such a memory and put it out there is an act of courage. I felt every word of this. Forgiveness is a huge subject; the “bigger” part of me thinks it shouldn’t be.
    You have captured its essence here so well.

    • You know the old saying, “forgive and forget”…but isn’t memory a funny thing…it belongs to the past but it won’t stay there…it’s the past within the present, still harassing us, but maybe allowing us a do-over in some sense…that’s the “forgive” part, including the forgiving of ourselves….but before I confuse us both any further, I will just say how grateful I am for all your kind words, Christine. You are definitely what we yanks call “a trouper”.

  5. A poignant sad memory Cynthia. I pray that you have some happy ones to blend in with this one. Sometimes our memories play tricks on us selecting the very sad and ultra happy moments and blending them into a background of overall impression “I had a —– childhood” It is good that you are now able to return to poetry for you sure can write it! Maybe one of the benefits of old age, when there are so few, that we can indulge in doing what our spirits demand and don’t have to dance to anther’s tune.
    Cheerio, Jane

    • Oh dear, Jane, that relegating childhood to a single descriptive would be a pity, if not probably false. Childhood is a treacherous journey but likely full of wonder and beauty as well. Some children are just lucky to have parents who help more than they hinder. The memory in this poem, because it stemmed from the first and most intimate source of life, was most destructive and needed to be put to rest. I say it still lives, but it has become powerless; publicly writing about something like that can be the final nail in its coffin.

  6. Very moving piece, and hopefully an effective way to exorcise that memory without losing its valuable lesson. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that if you were born a poet no one can quash that. It may hide away in the corners for a while (years even), but given the opportunity and enough sunlight, it will re-emerge – and usually stronger! As always, I greatly admire the eloquence that seems to flow so naturally in your pieces. I feel lucky you’ve rediscovered your inner poet 🙂

    • For your kind and insightful comment, I thank you. And for your photographic gifts, I thank you. I expect this year will indeed bring joy, and knowing the work–the very existence– of my blogging friends “out there” is no small part of that joy.

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