—with gratitude to Patricia Hubbell, “Prayer for Reptiles”
God, keep all traveling children
safe. Keep them
as they wander, wonder,
what place in this world for me?
Keep all boast and argue,
on the road to home.
all jitter-hand girls,
striving, cat loving, faithful but fearful
believers in good people
and sudden tragedy.
all serene and joyful
visitors avoiding the drama
of their own families.
all holiday confused husbands,
work driven, catching a breath
and a break.
friends, relatives, and perfect strangers
all wanting, all hope, all generosity.
Poet’s statement: This poem, inspired by Patricia Hubbell’s “Prayer for Reptiles,” captures the worry and anticipation of those days just before Thanksgiving when our 20-somethings, friends, and relatives are all on the road, traveling home for the holiday.
Anne Vilen is a professional education writer and the mother of two grown children. My poems, blogs, and essays have been published in Grown and Flown, Mothertongue, Poets and Writers, and the Washington Post Magazine.
It was a late Thursday evening and I was hitting away at the keyboard furiously, trying to complete an assignment as the curry simmered on the stove. At the back of my mind were several pending bills and my appointment with the eye doctor the next day. A slow migraine was creeping into my head, and I was torn— between shutting down the PC to stand under a warm shower and completing everything before going to bed. Just then, my teen entered and started gushing about something new he had learned in school. I nodded and smiled even as I continued to type in a frenzied whirl. As though to compete with my flying fingers, his words also gathered speed and tumbled out of his mouth—eager, excited and young.I typed, he talked. About physics and his‘awesome’ new physics teacher. I nodded, he talked. Until five minutes later, he burst out, “Amma. You no longer listen to me.” Disillusion was writ large on his face. There was hurt in his voice. I sighed and looked up from the PC. Finally.
“Dude, my wrist is all sore,” I said, as though all I needed to listen to him were painless, strong wrists. The teen stormed out of the room, not wanting to waste his logic on me. By then, the project I was working on made little sense to me, and the migraine descended with a full blown intensity.
I went to the balcony to find the teen still sulking. In the soft light of the night, his face looked more vulnerable than ever. More lonely. His little moment of joy had been clipped short by a preoccupied mother. I felt weak with guilt. A few days ago, I had completed seven long years of being a single parent. I introspected how the boys and I found it easier to laugh now. We bonded over jokes and silly and meaningless rhymes. And yet my complacence seemed to be crashing. Perhaps I was standing at the same place where I stood a few years back. The movement I felt was perhaps my imagination.
“Hey P, I do listen to you,” I said finally, when I couldn’t take the silence any longer.
“I know Amma,” he said, “But you don’t listen to the things I want to tell you.”
There was finality in the way he said it. And, all at once, the demons of the last seven years began to hover over my head. Had I not been single, perhaps I would have switched off the PC and given him my full attention. Perhaps we would have chatted over steaming cups of chocolate and cookies. Perhaps I would have abandoned the senseless project mid way.
Too many possibilities.
Too many hypotheses.
And yet, even as I thought about it, it sounded too fantastical. I knew I was building a big, fat teardrop out of scattered self-pity bubbles. For P resembled my late husband in many ways. Both of them loved connecting the dots; puzzles, math and Mensa, excited them no end.
“Go on try…this time I might really listen to you,” I said, my voice thin and watery.
P nodded and began to talk. He talked about math and physics. About concepts that confounded him. That made him feel lost. About simple harmonic motion and how it excited him. About speed and velocity. About the parabolic paths that bullets make sometimes. About vectors and calculus.
And I listened— to the sentences that poured forth, to the slight tremble in his voice. To the exclamation marks that followed. The sudden lull in his voice as perhaps his eyes were getting heavy with sleep. And the rise again. Like water gushing from a tap. The concepts were beginning to shed a little bit of their alien-ness. P questioned me. He patiently explained to me why my answers were incorrect. We discussed premises and limits. P asked more questions and I tried to answer with as much logic as my poetry-loving brain could muster at that late night hour.
A couple of hours later, P went to sleep.
I sat in the balcony, still holding my mug and was reminded of an outing a couple of years ago. Both the boys were still small and I had taken them to the beach. J wanted to play with the waves and P wanted to remain in the sand. As I took J into the water, P scrunched up on his fours and started digging furiously. Minutes later, when J and I returned, P excitedly showed us the little ‘sea’ in his pit—garrulous, frothy, and brown, it almost resembled the Bay of Bengal at a distance. J clapped his hands with joy.
It was almost dawn now. I had sat for the whole night in the balcony. The guilt of the previous night left me. A few choices were taking shape in my head. And in my heart. In a couple of hours, the Eastern sky would fill with light. My head still ached. Yet in a strange way, the pain no longer possessed me. It sat there at the back of my head in companionable silence, like a best friend, a soul sister.
And, as I made myself a cup of coffee, I pondered upon the role of listening and its intrinsic role in parenting—the absent-minded listening and the I-am-there-for-you listening, the excited listening and the drooping-of spirits listening, the you-can’t argue-with-me listening and the curious listening, the indulgent listening and I-am-not going to pamper-you-this time listening.
Whatever it was, I realized listening made me feel less vulnerable and more secure over the years. So I listened to the boys. To the games they played just outside my study door. To the ridiculous jokes they made up. The way they doubled up with laughter every moment. To the tales they carried from playground and school. To their fleeting sense of injustice they sometimes brought from these spaces. To their report card tales. To the names they called each other. To the secrets they hid from me.
And, as the thoughts grew more blurred, I fell asleep, knowing that the boys were fast asleep, stirring in their own world of dreams and make believe. In a few hours, I would wake up and email the freelancing client and ask him for an extension for the project. In the evening, I would once again listen to the boys recount their tales. In their young voices, I would begin to sprout wings and once again inhale the delicious whiff of freedom—a freedom that belongs to the earth as it as much as it belongs to the skies—poignant, poetic and firmly grounded.
Sridevi Datta was an accounting SME in her previous birth. This life, she is a full time content writer and editor. She has written for Huff Post, Women’s Web and Ezinearticles in addition to blogging at The Write Journey. An ardent lover of poetry, she loves reading books which have a strong cultural backbone and which reflect local thinking of the place and people. She is also a proud mother to two brats, who are solely responsible for her insanity and laughter.
Cans of cat food that she sorts and stacks while my back is turned then says
See? I put them in order.
Pink in a line, then purple, then blue.
Down the aisle, things on hooks sway in her wake,
the sound of cellophane under gangly fingers crackles
again, again until
Hands in your pockets,
hands on the cart,
hands anywhere except
She clasps her fingers into a burrow before her
but even then I see her eyes flicker,
barely holding the need
inside a tightly closed fist.
Kim Hunter-Perkins writes in snapshots, always striving to capture that moment that is fleeting. She is the editor of The Prompt lit mag and her work has appeared in Sow’s Ear, Off the Rocks, HLFQ, and recently in Gravel. She is the mother of two, a phd candidate in literature, and always fighting the good fight to find a little time to write.
Good poetry should be where beautiful words intersect with economy for maximum effect, but many times when I read modern poetry, I come away with no idea at all what the author is saying. It feels like the lexical version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, with me afraid to shout, “This is complete nonsense and gibberish,” lest the world, having affirmed the poet’s brilliance, denounce my low brow intellect. But some brave soul needs to say it.
I am happy to say that I have finally found a modern poet whose words make sense, who can drive home a pithy thought with the deft strokes of her keyboard, who makes me love poetry all over again: Shannon J. Curtin in her book, Motherland.
I want to tell you about my favorite poems in this book, but I’ve marked almost every page. I want to tell you my favorite lines without stealing from you the thrill of discovery or the impact of surprise. It won’t be easy…but I’ll try.
The wittily named “Fair Game” opens the collection, and I happened to receive the book when fair season was in full swing here. I love the fair, and she describes it so well from both idealistic and realistic perspectives…but it’s not about the fair, and what it is really about I relate to even more. That’s all I can say.
The title poem, “Motherland,” is next—a succinct description of a hometown in all its grit and glory. There were details that reminded me of my own hometown and I smiled; there were details quite unlike my own background, and I was intrigued. She concludes with a simple statement of what makes home, home. I might have teared up a little (not for the last time.)
“Vacancy” tells of a mother offering solace to emotionally needy kids and is my favorite. Full of perfect lines like, “There is a vacancy sign always lit above her front door in a typeface only the lost can read.” The woman in this poem is the woman I want so very much to be. It wraps up with one of Curtin’s signature perfect conclusions.
The mothers of other children are lauded in “The League of Other Mothers,” a less flattering but just as realistic poem balances that sweetness in the coming-of-age poem, “Before the After.” Nostalgia continues in the lovely images of “Communion”—I can hear the crinkle of wax paper and taste the cookies she describes. “My Mother the Fixer” and “Gift with Purchase” also celebrate mothers, imperfect, unique, heroic.
While many poems are from the perspective of a child (grown or not) looking at her mother, many others are written from a parent’s view towards her children or parenting itself. “Plea,” the two Pinterest poems, and “Rejection” make sharp comments on modern parenting. The Pinterest poems hint that fathers have fewer societal expectations, which may well be true, but I’m not sure we can draw that conclusion from a platform used by so many more mothers than fathers. Nonetheless, it is an interesting read.
“Growing Away” and “Fingers Crossed, Cross My Heart” discuss worry and letting go, themes every mother struggles with. “Languages” is a reminder to hear and treasure what children really mean instead of reacting from an adult’s perspective. “All Boy” is excellent; I have a little boy, and I was once a little girl sometimes squashed in spirit by boys who were raised to be mean brutes. My heart echoes Curtin’s words for my own son:
I hope you keep the balance
we all are born with.
I hope you ache to build up
towers to marvel at their beauty
just as much as you enjoy
the gleeful clatter of their crash.
As a book reviewer, my desk is piled high with volumes that publishers have sent me. With my little house, I can’t keep them all. Motherland will be an exception; it’s getting a permanent spot on my shelf to be read, enjoyed, and shared over and over.
Shannon J. Curtin is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee, the Poetry editor of The Quotable, and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (Anchor and Plume Press), and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications). Her writing has been featured in a variety of literary magazines including Mothers Always Write, The Muddy River Review, The Mom Egg Review, and The Elephant Journal. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. She’s the mother of Quinn, a real boy, and Bruno a dog that wishes he was a real boy. She would probably like you. You can find her at www.shannonmazur.com and @Shannon_Mazur.