My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

More on Repetition as a Deepening Tool

The Observer  by CGO

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway,
Her aproned, pocketed self,
strip of white hair
fell forward
as she eternally stirred
a big pot of soup.
A single drop of liquid mucus
slid the length of her
curved Italian nose
and hung at the tip
for an indeterminate moment.
Just when it seemed
it would fall into the soup,
she snatched a well-used tissue
from her pocket,
swiped at it,
repocketed the tissue
and continued stirring.
I didn’t speak
and she never turned.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
to find out who she was
to get answers by silent osmosis
to find out who I was to become
to get a sign that she was
more than an aproned role,
robotic, dutiful
to see if she would sense me there
turn, smile and perhaps say she loved me
or invite me into the kitchen
to teach me what she knew of
making soup and being a woman.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
because I wanted to tell her
things would be alright
that I loved her
that the length of kitchen
between us
separating us
wasn’t necessary
that we were safe.

I watched my mother
from the kitchen doorway
a distance of ten feet
because she needed space
her boundaries with him were nil
and she always felt threatened
she couldn’t tell by whom
…and she held me all those embraces away
because love always hurt.

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Read this poem a second time.

Notice how I’ve used the line “I watched my mother from the kitchen doorway” to lead myself, as the writer, deeper into my subject?  As the reader, do you feel the rhythmic quality of this poem as this repeated line invites you into “the story”?

WRITING PROMPT:
Is there a theme that you’d like to deepen into?  Write one line that could be the initiator of this process and let your writing be guided by this repeated line.  By the way, the repeated line doesn’t have to begin the stanza; it could be within the body of the poem. That’s another type of challenge.

Good luck.