Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Poem for My Mother

My mother, who would note her eighty-sixth birthday, on the ninth of June, died fourteen years ago this October. The dead pay visits in dream lands. My Mom has been stopping by in my dreams of late. Scenes from these dreams inspired this poem.

Tea in the Garden

My daughter, my mother and I enjoy
a third infusion of a green oolong.

I offer Mom small cups of tea and
all the approval and forgiveness
I can manage, but, like a ploy—
Somehow misbegotten, wrong.

For reasons I never will
Know, Mom’s father and her older brother,
—Grandfather Robert and Uncle Bobby I never knew—
Left holes to fill.

Bobby,12, was killed when
a train slammed into the hay truck he rode.
Mom’s parents grieved deep, long,
Did they notice their little girl suffered too?

My daughter helps me stay with my mom.
We snuggle on the couch, sipping, now, a
Fourth infusion from tiny thin white porcelain
Cups without handles handmade in Korea.
I rest one hand lovingly on my mom’s warm knee.
I cradle a tiny, almost empty cup in the other.

I am her son, am I also her dad, her brother?
I can’t do this alone. My brothers help,
More than I know.

I’m the father of her only granddaughter.
We stroll out to the garden
Through the back door.
Mom’s steps are unsteady, slow.

We study without embarrassment salmon roses
Unfolding their voluptuous petals
We see three baby zucchini,
The first of the season.

I grasp an old Swiss Army knife in my pocket
take it out and unfold a blade and
pass it carefully, scuffed red plastic handle first,
To my daughter, who,
With skills honed in surgery
Slices three zucchini from their umbilicals.

Grandpa died when Mom was in college
Ten years before I could hear his voice.
I long to hear his voice, even if only in dreams.

We chew the raw zucchini,
Eyes closed in reverent reflex
Wordlessly thanking leafy mother zucchini.
“You’re welcome,” she says shyly,
Plant language we three hear plainly,
And we know the zucchini is looking forward
To languid sex
With bees in the afternoon sun
The day after tomorrow.

A bluebird lands in a nearby blue spruce
Just ahead of a breeze.
The three of them—
The breeze, the bluebird, the trees
Whisper a blessing, a prayer, a truce
To the five of us
My mother, my daughter, me,
The zucchini and the bees.


Delwyn said...

Dan your poem is so beautiful it gave me the shivers...and that is the true test for me...
Becoming the parent of your parent is a challenging role. You did it with dignity and love.

happy days

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you Delwyn. This poem more or less tumbled out in the luxury of a summer morning of sleeping in three hours longer than usual, dreaming my dreams until they finish themselves up, and, of course, the summertime luxury of time, time to jot down the dream.

The roles of parent, child, grandparent... they're all jumbled up in me.

Shivers in Hawaii? Wow. That's quite a compliment, Delwyn. Thank you.

jinksy said...

All for one, and one for all...

Bonnie said...

Simply heart-warming Dan. The dream was precious and now you have solidified it with your tender words.

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you for leaving a comment, Jinksy. Yep we're all cousins, you know.

Dan Gurney said...

Bonnie, thanks. Poems and dreams are cousins in their own way, don't you think? A lot of my poems arise in my dreams.

Paul C said...

You captured peace and stillness so well with the sibilance of your words.

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you Paul. I was pleased at how many rhymes appeared as I wrote this.

steven said...

dan i saved this for a time when nothing would distract me. i'm so glad i could afford that luxury and give this writing the careful attention it deserves. dan, there's a book of stories like this in you. perhaps being written inside you is all they need but i would encourage you (and wish for others who have yet to experience the thoughtful and rich insight you have into this place of existence and all of its beautiful details) that you might commit these stories to something physical outside of yourself!! beautiful writing. my goodness. steven

neighbor said...


this is a lovely poem - indeed I can feel the slow move of summer and the way tastes and sights and touches are drawn out and emphasized, and how times past and present mingle, embodied in your mother, you, your daughter.

Thank you.

Dan Gurney said...

steven, thank you for the amazing comment. I'll share this poem with the Society of Friends when we have our quarterly poetry reading meeting next Tuesday. I love blogging because it allows us to share our work with an audience that can respond, as you have. it's encouraging to hear from you and it motivates me to reach in and find what I can to share.

Dan Gurney said...

neighbor, as you know I hold one of your poems in very high regard... up there among the most memorable of the same category that Mary Oliver resides in, so your comment means a whole lot to me.

I'm glad you could see the slowing down of the sensory input and the blurring of time.

The mingling of past, present and future is what I find so wonderful about dream realms: time is not linear in dreamland, and people don't age according to the same rules. So in my dreams my adult daughter can meet my long-ago-passed-away mother and talk with an ageless me in my present day garden. Also, in my dreams, plants and animals are much more communicative. They talk and have personality.

neighbor said...

thanks Dan - if not for the fact that you liked that particular poem, I'd not have found this nice circle of blog-friends :-)

here's to poetry and plants, dreams and family and animals and the good ways they all communicate with each other!