Our Mothers form the deepest roots of our memory. A bond like no other, mothers gave us life and continue to nourish our souls with wisdom and words.
I find a poem each year; one that pulls at my emotions and, maybe, calls up my loving Mother’s enormous spirit.
Dorianne Laux’s poetry often speaks to me, and the more I familiarize myself with her body of work, the more I recognize the motherhood theme so deeply ingrained in her poetry. Laux speaks as a mother and of her mother.
I hope you enjoy The Ebony Chickering as much as I do.
The Ebony Chickering
My mother cooked with lard she kept
in coffee cans beneath the kitchen sink.
Bean-colored linoleum ticked under her flats
as she wore a path from stove to countertop.
Eggs cracked against the lips of smooth
ceramic bowls she beat muffins in,
boxed cakes and cookie dough.
It was the afternoons she worked toward,
the smell of onions scrubbed from her hands,
when she would fold her flowered apron
and feed it through the sticky refrigerator
handle, adjust the spongy curlers on her head
and wrap a loud Hawaiian scarf into a tired knot
around them as she walked toward her piano,
the one thing my father had given her that she loved.
I can still see each gold letter engraved
on the polished lid she lifted and slid
into the piano’s dark body, the hidden hammers
trembling like a muffled word,
the scribbled sheets, her rough hands poised
above the keys as she began her daily practice.
Words like arpeggio sparkled through my childhood,
her fingers sliding from the black bar of a sharp
to the white of a common note. “This is Bach,”
she would instruct us, the tale of his name hissing
like a cat. “And Chopin,” she said, “was French,
like us,” pointing to the sheet music. “Listen.
Don’t let the letters fool you. It’s best
to always trust your ear.”
She played parts of fugues and lost concertos,
played hard as we kicked each other on the couch,
while the meat burned and the wet wash wrinkled
in the basket, played Beethoven as if she understood
the caged world of the deaf, his terrible music
pounding its way through the fence slats
and the screened doors of the cul-de-sac, the yards
where other mothers hung clothes on a wire, bent
to weeds, swept the driveways clean.
Those were the years she taught us how to make
quick easy meals, accept the embarrassment
of a messy house, safety pins and rick-rack
hanging from the hem of her dress.
But I knew the other kids didn’t own words
like fortissimo and mordant, treble clef
and trill, or have a mother quite as elegant
as mine when she sat at her piano,
playing like she was famous,
so that when the Sparklets man arrived
to fill our water cooler every week
he would lean against the doorjamb and wait
for her to finish, glossy-eyed
as he listened, secretly touching the tips
of his fingers to the tips of her fingers
as he bowed, and she slipped him the check.
Happy Mother’s Day