Poem For My Mother

30 Oct

morning sun stings my eyes

crucifix on a pink wall magpies

in the macrocarpas my mother

in the washhouse poking

clothes into hot water with a wooden stick

Ave Ave Ave Maria she sings round the beat

of the machine down the passage they fly

into my ears Ave I echo back from bed

in the kitchen by the toaster swinging legs

as she irons I love the flap the slap

as she shakes steams shirtstowelshand

kerchiefspyjamastablenapkins

places them in the ironing tabernacle

the piles her offerings cleanliness

is next to godliness my mother says baptising

shirts with bright water anointing

every wrinkle flattening each edge these rites

sacraments singing her grace

church her parent and teacher

hymnslitaniesnovenascommandments

arms to hold in a lonely world

a wraith for a mother she wore

a blue dress was tall I waited

by a gate every woman is tall

to a child and blue the colour of sky

and Mary most beautiful among black

veils flickering candles bells

and air raids what kind of gate

how long how often did a nun come look

into her eyes hold her chin in her hand

lock her hand in hers when the gate

click-closed no mother came

my mother’s hands cold from waiting

in touchfree childhood

in the afternoons my brothers and I

walk home by freesia-fringed oaks

to our mother in her green chair

beneath Rembrandt’s mother

bent over a book hands caressing

words my mother cannot speak

her language gives her my father

a house of bricks high on a hill

family a word she’d never lived

her chair by the window to watch

and wait for us not faraway mountains

heavy with books from the library

her ring knocks against glass

we hear she’s seen us the world

is a dangerous place take care

when we leave always she stands

at the door wraps her hands

round our faces you must be cold

come let me measure

your arms on the green chair

round pearl needles wool spilling

from a green suede bag to keep us warm

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