“I guess you didn’t think my poem was any good,” my mother said as we chatted on the phone, her voice somewhat wistful, ever-so-slightly sad.
“Oh,” I replied. “Um, yeah, it was okaaay …”
“Because you didn’t publish it on your blog,” she continued.
My mother doesn’t comment publicly on my blog posts but will instead communicate the old-fashioned way via email or mentioning a post during a phone conversation. So in response to my review of Billy Collins’ poetry collection Nine Horses came my mother’s emailed comment:
“Seems like I always liked poems, but really never understood the ones that don’t rhyme. I understand the meaning, but I guess there is a certain flow that I’m not really sure about. Anyway coming back from the supermarket today this came into my head for whatever reason I don’t know. If it’s any good you can put in the correct punctuation. Love Mom.”
I come from a family of secrets, not writers (although family secrets sure make for some good writing). Or so I thought, as I wondered what, exactly, to do with my mother’s poem. Truth be told, I didn’t quite get it – and in my sometimes blunt way, asked her what it was supposed to be about. She told me; I replied that I would post it later.
And later I remembered the large book-shaped box, Memories calligraphied in gold on the cover, that rested on my grandmother’s bureau. During overnights as a child, sleeping with her in her bed while she banished my grandfather to the guest bedroom, I would ask to see its contents. And always, the answer was no – and if you knew my grandmother, that was probably the only thing I ever asked her for that I was denied.
It was my mother who opened the box after her death, and I admit feeling a sense of initial disappointment. What I expected, I don’t know, but inside were the stuff of grandmothers -some family photos, an Erma Bombeck column, Crayola-ed birthday cards from me and my brother. That’s it? I remember saying to my mother. That’s all she had in there? All this time? What’s the big secret?
There were, however, some poems. Verses written decades earlier, upon the birth of a grandchild “with problems,” and upon that same child’s death less than two years later. Stanzas written from the heart, without thought of form or structure, just a poem.
I didn’t know she ever wrote anything, I said to my mom. I wondered what else she kept boxed up, what other writings didn’t make it to the Memories box, what may have been destroyed, what may have left this Earth with her.
And it was a similar feeling on Sunday, reading my mom’s email. “Seems I always liked poems … “ Really? You do? Like poetry?
So here’s my mom’s poem. Maybe it’s not the best poem ever written, maybe you – like me – are scratching your head about its meaning. Maybe the meaning is meant to be mysterious, or maybe the meaning isn’t what I’ve been told.
Maybe it’s just meant to be what it is. A simple attempt to step out of the box.
How does she know
Why can she hear him
He doesn’t know her
He’s happy for me
What’s it like for him
Should I be happy for him?
He says he loves me
Why can’t I hear his voice?
Then I would know.
About the photo: the typewriter photo was taken by me a few weeks ago during our visit to the Please Touch Museum. The typewriter is part of an exhibit at the museum called Centennial Exploration which commemorates the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia (the first ever World’s Fair). The Please Touch Museum is housed in Memorial Hall, the historical building where the 1876 Centennial Exhibition was held.