For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)
Posted May 13, 2007on:
My mother loved my father
I write this as an absolute
in this my thirtieth year
the year to discard absolutes
he appeared, her fate disguised,
as a sunday player in a cricket match,
he had ridden from a country
one hundred miles south of hers.
She tells me he dressed the part,
visiting dandy, maroon blazer,
cream serge pants, seam like razor
and the beret and the two-tone shoes.
My father stopped to speak to her sister,
till he looked and saw her by the oleander,
sure in the kingdom of my blue-eyed grandmother.
He never played the cricket match that day.
He wooed her with words and he won her.
He had nothing but words to woo her,
on a visit to distant Kingston he wrote,
“I stood on the corner of King Street and looked,
and not one woman in that town was lovely as you.”
My mother was a child of the petite bourgeoisie
studying to be a teacher, she oiled her hands
to hold pens.
My father barely knew his father, his mother died young,
he was a boy who grew with his granny.
My mother’s trousseau came by steamer through the snows
where her sisters Albertha of the cheekbones and the
perennial Rose, combed Jewlit backstreets with French-
turned names for Doris’s wedding things.
Such a wedding Harvey River, Hanover, had never seen.
Who anywhere had seen a veil fifteen chantilly yards long?
and a crepe de chine dress with inlets of silk godettes
and a neck-line clasped with jeweled pins!
And on her wedding day she wept. For it was a brazen bride in those days
and her bouquet looked for the world like a sheaf of wheat
against the unknown of her belly,
a sheaf of wheat backed by maidenhair fern, representing Harvey River
her face washed by something other than river water.
My father made one assertive move, he took the imported cherub down
from the heights of the cake and dropped it in the soft territory
between her breasts…and she cried.
When I came to know my mother many years later, I knew her as the figure
who sat at the first thing I learned to read: “SINGER,” and she breast-fed
my brother while she sewed; and she taught us to read while she sewed and
she sat in judgment over all our disputes as she sewed.
She could work miracles, she would make a garment from a square of cloth
in a span that defied time. Or feed twenty people on a stew made from
fallen-from-the-head cabbage leaves and a carrot and a cho-cho and a palmful
And she rose early and sent us clean into the world and she went to bed in
the dark, for my mother came in always last.
There is a place somewhere where my mother never took the younger ones
a country where my father with the always smile
my father whom all women loved, who had the perpetual quality of wonder
given only to a child…hurt his bride.
Even at his death there was this “Friend” who stood by her side,
but my mother is adamant that that has no place in the memory of
When he died, she sewed dark dresses for the women amongst us
and she summoned the walk, straight-backed, that she gave to us
and buried him dry-eyed.
Just that morning, weeks after,
she stood delivering bananas from their skin
singing in that flat hill country voice
she fell down a note to the realization that she did
not have to be brave, just this once,
and she cried.
For her hands grown coarse with raising nine children
for her body for twenty years permanently fat
for the time she pawned her machine for my sister’s
Senior Cambridge fees
and for the pain she bore with the eyes of a queen
and she cried also because she loved him.