The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Geraldine Connolly
Matins: My Mother Speaks
I used to bring baskets of eggs
and garden lettuce to the tall house
on Underwood Street. The woman
who answered the door wore a pince nez
and stared down at the produce before
she pressed a nickel into my palm.
My father had stowed away on a ship
that departed from Hamburg.
In his new country, he hated going down
into the mines. Each morning when he left,
the church bell rang Matins. Each
night when he returned in the dark,
the trees wore my mother’s hair.
We circled around him like a bracelet
every evening and chanted our prayers.
When we lost him, we lost everything:
the apple orchard, the high field,
his hand on our foreheads, his tenor arias.
At night I couldn’t breathe when
I thought of him and clawed the wallpaper roses.
He spoke to us sometimes in the old tongue.
I learned it and wrote letters to Aunt Vladja
who remained in Warsaw.
I dreamed that I would meet him
one day on the trolley, and recognize
his trim mustache, the scar like
a half moon on his left palm.
After we milked the cows, gathered eggs
and hung the wash, we rode bareback
into the meadows of alfalfa
then stormed the woods where the boys
had built a tree fort. We scaled the
rope stairs to the high branches
of a pin oak to challenge them,
grunting, cracking our boards against
their boards, sweating and cursing.
We wanted to prove ourselves in battle,
to slay other brave and beautiful warriors
who belonged to tribes of Nomads,
in the regions of Scythia
where the Chinese built the Great Wall
to hold us back. Great archers,
great riders, beholden to no men,
sisters of the battle, companions,
we would have gladly died together
buried with our weapons.
What is it that compelled us, Carole,
to return home and live in disguise
rising to cook eggs and sausage,
then set the table to serve
our male cousins and uncles.
We worked as handmaidens
but longed for the late afternoon,
when we would set out
again on our journey
pure of heart and purpose
from the Black Sea to Mongolia
with hand-carved bows and
horses we had trained.
I remember you, cousin,
your spear lifted,
hair tangled in the wind,
and my fear is that
I have remained a servant.
As I watch my granddaughter
reprimanded for interrupting an adult,
for not thinking before she speaks,
I call forth the spirit of those
Amazon girls we once were
and will her to step forward,
to answer back, unrelenting.
It all begins here in the dark
in the unfamiliar house
with its shrouded chairs
and stacks of unread mail.
You search for chocolates
hidden in high cupboards.
You stumble toward a night table
with its crumpled Kleenex,
smudged water glass, half-read book.
You hesitate then climb into the bed
and dream another’s dreams,
the baby abandoned next to the ocean,
the room you can’t find.
You lie on rumpled sheets
where someone has tossed,
sleepless, unable to rise
and begin the day.
You recognize the loneliness,
a pile of date pits
next to the bed,
soiled clothes crumpled
on the floor.
You stay here awhile,
then rise to make your coffee
and eggs, read the news.
Knowing another’s life
You begin to think thoughts
that you never, until now,
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