What We Remember

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.

©Dorianne Laux

 Happy Mother’s Day

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