Thursday, February 01, 2007

For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)


~Lorna Goodison (Jamaica)

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 of Montreal
where her sisters Albertha of the cheekbones and the
perennial Rose, combed Jewlit backstreets with French-turned names for Doris' 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 jewelled pins!

And on her wedding day she wept. For it was a brazen bridein those days who smiled.
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 judgement 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 of meat.

And she rose early and sent us clean into the world and she
went to bed in the dark, for my father 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 my father.

When he died, she sewed dark dresses for the women
amongst us and she summoned that 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.




Anonymous said...

#vOte2O12 Brilliance [solemn nod].

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