by Marilyn Graham, copyright 2014
What I’m writing about today
is what’s most compelling to me now
and that would be
how mother comes to me
through the old German songs
I thought I had forgotten
it seems right now
to have your Liederschatz
out on the piano–
I really expected you to die first
and you haven’t
and now I have your Liederschatz
because for me, you are in it
and the harmony
you may have sung
with your mother
is just below the surface now
all the time
that I am so much a part of you
though seemingly so separated
old things are not important
just because they’re old
when I was a child
I loved to touch and hold the ancient handkerchief
you kept in your mother’s handkerchief box
now so soft
it will not hold a crease
by my tears
does the box
that held such magic
for me as a child
hold magic for me still?
What keeps me writing
easily a thousand things
write me a haiku
I forget the box
holds feelings for a loved one,
until it opens
Mother’s wit was adroit.
“When I married her, she was going to write a book.
It was pretty hard to do that when she had kids.”
Would I have ever known the flavor of Concord grapes
the way they lose their seeds and skins
when you boil them and press them to make preserves,
if you had not performed the art that was your heritage?
I know the tart clear flavor
because you searched them out at Alpha Beta
I didn’t develop a taste for persimmons
when I was younger,
but they too became part of the poetic heritage of autumn
that you casually invoked
with centerpieces that always accented nature–
you never identified yourself with them
you let the result look as if it had created itself.
You left northern Iowa and worked at Yonkers in Des Moines.
For a while you were a 4-H county home demonstration agent
in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
When you met my father, you became a military wife
and after the war was over,
you carted the whole family around the world.
You left Lotts Creek and Ocheyedan, but I will always know
Lotts Creek and Ocheyedan through you, Johanna.
You left Des Moines and Ft. Wayne, but I will always know Des Moines and Ft. Wayne through you, Jo.
To you, a deadline for Jo’s Journal was a challenge gracefully met,
the agony you endured never ended up on the page.
When you saw the secret pain I felt,
when my first husband’s first book brought praise,
you felt compelled to share a secret.
“In journalism, that’s what we call a puff piece,” you whispered, knowing you weren’t supposed to tell, knowing I needed to hear it.
I couldn’t understand then, the wisdom and compassion
which you lightly wished to pass on.
You could only hope some of the seeds
of the love that could not warm me then
would fall in the tight crevices
between my lack of self-esteem
you could only hope
for an enduring species of milkweed
I just want to say thank you.
Now I understand
you who were so misunderstood.
I lay my hands upon the red lichen-covered stone
that marks the trail
and pray my daughter knows the way back
I will not be alienated
from the spirit of my ancestors
Today is the day I eat my words
the day I vow to understand their meaning and their curse
word be true to story
story be true to word
I vow to abide by truth
the day I eat my words.
Finally the poem
is no different
from the dream
so little action
so much happens
in a moment
the handblown vase simply appears
even the straight jacket
to see that I’m not in it
belongs to the body
I’ll be round again
the day I eat my words
I am the animal
escaping and mediating
for its twin on earth
I am all plant life
right down to the microbe
I hold all the pain
I hold all the love
I am the lining inside the box
that belonged to my mother
and my grandmother
standing behind her
I am falling apart
I am just threads–
you can put your hand right through me
I want you to do this for me now
reach through me
Categories: poem by Marilyn Graham