Today would’ve been my mother’s 97th birthday. She passed in 2001 after a long illness, but even after all these years I think of her daily. Most of the time they are happy thoughts, though bittersweet because you never stop needing your mother, no matter how old you are; the truth is, most of us don’t realize that until we’re old ourselves. So today, I’d like to honor her by sharing a few poems inspired by the best mother anyone could ask for.
(for my mother, born February 6, 1919)
Through a window I watch snow fall,
fat flakes blown in the wind.
Warmed by the scent of hot chocolate
and thoughts of you,
I contemplate how long before
this sweet interlude ends
and it will be time to shovel the walk.
I remember the story
of your father’s trek through a blizzard
to get the Italian midwife
who carried a gun for self-defense.
Tiny and perfect,
you arrived before they did.
You said it always snowed on your birthday —
or right around it.
There was no snow a fortnight ago,
but February remembers,
Warm with memory I watch the snow
drip from the eaves like tears.
I remember too.
[From Poems from the Edge of Spring ©2011]
Most days I can outrun the melancholy,
focus on bright, happy memories
and let my spirit be lifted up.
But not today.
Today is your birthday.
It’s sunny and mild,
a beautiful February day
with none of the snow
you always predicted.
I would be happy with snow
if it meant you were still here.
I wanted to get you a card
and struggle to find the perfect gift
to let you know
just how much I love you.
I wanted to pick up the phone
and hear your happiness
at the sound of my voice.
I wanted to knock on your door
and surprise you with a cake,
but I could do none of that.
Today I bought yellow roses.
Today, alone in a sea of cold white marble,
I sang Happy Birthday to you
and wished for the impossible
on invisible candles.
I can see Mama’s black marble composition notebook
with its lined pages
opened to reveal hand-copied quotations
and poems she fancied.
I can still hear her read bits of Ogden Nash aloud:
his purple cow and its sequel.
There are newspaper clippings
held with cellophane tape that yellowed with time,
along with pamphlet programs
from concerts in the park,
where we sat in the grass sharing
pitchers of beer and lemonade
from the refreshment stand
while the band played on.
When we grew bored with the music
my sister and I were soothed with promises
of a ride on the carousel when it was done.
What fun, on a warm summer evening,
to ride around and around
with the strung lights dancing as we passed by.
when Mama’s makeshift scrapbook
is long gone to who knows what end,
I remember the little things
she thought were important.
My heart is filled with volumes of them.
[From When Leaves Fall ©2012]
I see you clearly, waving goodbye
in your sky blue house dress
with the big white polka dots.
Tears run down my cheeks
from the moment the car leaves the curb
and for the next two hours of the drive.
I am inconsolable with homesickness,
no matter that a week in the country
away from the sizzling city heat
is supposed to be fun.
It isn’t, even if my aunt does have a big pool
and the ice cream man drives down her street twice a day.
I’d rather run through the sprinkler in the park
and be with my parents.
It’s the longest week of my young life.
The day you come to save me from this torture,
I sit on the porch, bouncing with anticipation.
When you arrive, I jump up,
feeling free at long last;
I race to greet you
and throw myself into open arms
that pull me so close
that I’m lost in your ample bosom
in a crushing hug I want to never end.
No joy can compare to that moment,
no love more heartfelt than a mother’s embrace.
No sorrow greater than the impossibility
of it ever happening again.
Coddled, cozened, and coerced,
I played your games
time and time again.
You never cheated,
but you always played to win;
no handicaps given
for age or innocence.
Even when I didn’t want to,
I played your games
because I loved you,
because it made you happy.
Sometimes it made me happy too,
even though I rarely won.
Mostly I was glad when
you found new games to play.
All the cards are gone
and the dice have been tossed;
the game boards and playing pieces
were trashed long ago.
So why do I long to hear you call,
“Come play with me!”