Claiming Myself as a Mother Poet
I bundle the trash, spray the can with Lysol, put the bag outside the back door, get a new liner. Me, a mother poet? I wash my hands, take down my jar of Kosher salt, find the brown sugar, start a brine for the turkey. It’s four in the morning, the house cold, the gleaming wood floors icy against my socks. If I turn on the heater, will I wake everyone up? When the heater clicks on, our upstairs roasts like an oven while the downstairs remains frigid. The whims of a century old house, the musings of a mother. But a poet mother? I don’t risk the heater and flip on the kettle instead. Tea will warm me up.
I just stumbled into your class, found it by chance on my smart phone during a bout with insomnia, read it through, dared to think of myself as a student, a classmate. Briefly, even, as a mother-poet. “What are you doing?” my husband’s groggy voice asked. He must have sensed the glow of my phone under my tent, our down comforter translucent while I scrolled the pages. “It’s okay,” I whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
Your class pulled me out of bed, down the still-unrestored stairway, each step creaking as I tiptoed, using my cell phone as a flashlight until I made it all the way down and could turn on a light. I wandered into the cold kitchen where I contemplate poetry in life, the poetry of my life, the questions your class prompted and which run through my head anyway, just not in a way that I have shared with others. I have piles of journals, piles of boxes of journals, and I have to think that embedded in all that scratching must be a line or two of poetry.
A wig is curled up like a cat next to me on the table, my freshly chemo’d head cold, my ears cold, the new tuffs of hair soft as a whisper but not long enough to keep my head warm. Sometimes I run my palm against the growth just to feel it’s newness, the shock of grey coming in soft waves. I miss my straight blond hair, long and youthful, sexy and bold. The short grey makes me look like a lesbian, an old lesbian, a stark contrast from the girly girl I used to be and would like to be again, an attractive heterosexual wife and soccer mom. Am I disqualified now? Would a real poet mother have such shallow desires, articulate thoughts that sound as if bordering on intolerance?
I started writing when I was just a kid, my pudgy fingers grabbing a dull pencil and a stack of scrap paper and heading into the Missouri woods across the street from my childhood home. I crab walked my way down a long cement storm drain, then leaped from the end of it onto a dry creek bed, scrambled up the muddy, root laden bank to the well worn path and on to my favorite tree. I soaked in the smells of the woods, its earthy dampness, and tried in my child’s way to make sense of the world, to organize it and put it down on paper.
When I was done, I’d stuff the pages in my pockets, weave the pencil into my pony tail, and then look at shiny rocks or pick fragrant purple flowers for my mother’s bedside table. At home, I’d hide those pages, burying them in the debris under my bed or in the bottom of my dresser drawer, places where my mom and siblings would never look, that no one would ever see. Scraps of paper detailing my little life, my desperation to make sense of a world that didn’t make any sense. Because events that compel a seven year old girl to take paper into the woods by herself, to write thoughts too secret to share, are events that don’t make sense anyway, that poetry or prose or art or silence just can’t figure out.
Over the years, those scraps of paper became spiral notebooks, piles of them. I fill one up, then throw it on the heap. When the heap is big enough, I box it up, toss the box in the garage. Move them when we move, wonder what to do with them. A bonfire? I’m not sure. Is there something there of value? Should I look back?
My cold head and the synchronicity of your class insinuating itself into my life, prompt me to wonder, to muse about the limitation of time, the what ifs. That it might be okay to go ahead and show someone the piles of thoughts I’ve had over the years, some powerful, beautifully written, some shallow, whining chopping mindlessness, but all mine, the crazy story of my life, the constant narration that runs through my head and yearns to be put down on paper. Show it, your class said. Send it in. Claim yourself as a mother-poet.
This piece originally appeared in Literary Mama