WRiting Ties That Bind: Mothers / fathers ~ Our Rite of Passage
(A Writing Prompt)
Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.
-- Marguerite Duras
Marge Piercy says that a dab of childhood mud can set a story right.
Pat Schneider says that “perhaps there is no richer material for us than the stories of our lives with – or without – our parents. The material is primal and universal and available to every writer. For some of us it is inescapable.” Pat grew up in an orphanage.
Schneider says that Kim Chernin, in her book, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Her Mother, could as easily be speaking of her father:
Mother-stories have to be told over and over. Repetition is part of their nature. They have come into existence because, like a Chinese box, or a Russian doll, they contain secret drawers, dolls within dolls, stories within stories in a sequence that must be explored, until the heart of the matter, the smallest doll, the innermost drawer of meaning, has been reached.
This is a poem that China Barber wrote shortly before she was murdered by her ex-husband. She brought her chapbook by my house. China was a remarkable poet—a student I will always remember. This poem is unforgettable as China herself. The following is a prose poem.
SWEET LOVE OF NOTHING
My mother told me that he never beat us as badly as I say. That I only imagined the pain. Imagined her yellow talons wrapped around the crank-filled light bulb. Too high to be aware of her children. Of her children that needed her, begged for her. She said that he didn’t touch me. That I imagined his hands on me. Told me to get high if it was true. So I did, for a little while anyway. She told me that she gave us a happy home. Too permanently burnt to remember the nonexistent pain we endured. She really doesn’t remember. Can’t remember what we suffered. Only three of us left. Three of six children. They died for different reasons. Made it through the pain to die too early. Too good for this world anyway. She asked me to reach out. To be a daughter after all these years. To forget what she has done—to forgive. I tried. I couldn’t. She denied it all. No memories in the shriveled up clouded brain, eaten away by meth and mental illness. Mother-of-God—not. Sweet love of nothing. Love of obligation.
The following is a prose poem by Lissa Kiernan from her book, Two Faint Lines in the Violet, published by Negative Capability Press.
THE RIVER, MY FATHER
My father, my gay father. My father, my Maine Lobster. My father, my green eggs and ham. My father, my Super 8 movie. Always behind the lens. My father, my fat father. My father, my left ovary. My father, when pigs fly. My father, my Anaïs. My Henry. My June. My father, my flute. My father, my monster slayer, my father, my holy terror. My father, my who do you think is going to have to clean this up? My father, my purple bandanna. My father, my leather fetish, my motorcycle papa. My father, my home in the country. My father, my farther. Down a long dirt road.
TRAVELLING MY SHADOW
Where are you woman,
you who lay spread-eagled
thirty years ago
casting out nine months of me
with a pushpushpush and shove,
do you remember—
for it was your delivery day.
Did you ever hold me in your arms
or was it as a snip of the cord
that severed us two?
You have three grandsons—
two are twins, but they call another
“Grandma” – and I another,
Mother. Someday I will come
travelling my shadow to your door.
“Collecting for the heart fund,”
I will tell you, take your dollar
and walk away.
In Learning To Tell Time, published by Negative Capability Press, Joe Whitten writes about his father:
SOME LONESOME BLUES KEEP HANGING ‘ROUND
Since we were never introduced, I didn’t know
how to speak of you. Do I call you Nathan.
Father sounds too formal for a mountain man
And Daddy too familiar for a stranger.
For a long time I felt deserted, angry that you left
me to stumble my way through step-childhood.
My aunts and uncles told me of you. Mother didn’t.
But when I turned fifteen, she gave me a snapshot
of you smiling at your guitar. And she did tell
that the night before old man Gentry
shot you down, you played for her to sing
I dreamed I searched Heaven for you.
Tonight, Nathan, I’d like to give you my guitar.
I never learned to play it well,
and Uncle Newell said you were Grand-‘olpry good.
I was clumsy with fingering chords, but music
throbs low cadence through my blood as it did yours,
and if you’ll come back a ghost some night to Odenville,
I’ll play some lonesome country songs
on my piano—I’ll start with “Born to Lose”
or maybe “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
Poetry is therapeutic. It helps us cope with loss and with despair. It also helps us express the greatest joy and sense of thanksgiving. Sometimes writing in a particular form provides some sense of order –uniting both form and feeling. Here we have poems that are both prose poems and free verse. Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is a direct address to her father—an apostrophe.
Here is Edgar Allen Poe’s “Sonnet to my Mother”:
Sonnet — To My Mother.
[Written for The Flag of our Union.]
EDGAR A. POE.
Because I feel that, in the heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘mother’ —
Therefore by that sweet name I long have called you —
You, who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you,
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother — my own mother — who died early —
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew;
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
And of course, there is Eve – and Mother Earth – and may the possibilities prod your muse to write.