Sunday, May 10, 2020

"Necessity of Moisture": A Poem for Mother's Day

It's Sunday, May 10--a Mother's Day that will be one of the more unusual than many of us have ever experienced.  Maybe it will be a relief, a reminder of what's important:  our love for each other, our ability to nurture in all sorts of ways.  And of course, there will be many occasions for mourning on this Mother's Day.

I find myself missing my mom, even though she's still alive, and I can call her later today.  My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways, but the one that was perhaps most important to me was that she kept me supplied in books. Before I could drive myself to the library, she drove me and checked out as many books as I wanted (the Montgomery Alabama public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time--5 books??!!--I could read that amount in a lazy afternoon!). And when our family only had one car, we biked to the library. She was supportive in any number of my future endeavors too, like writing and drama and choosing a college and writing a dissertation and oh, the list is so long--but all those quests are rooted in my early reading. It was those books that showed me all the possible lives that humans could have. And it was my mom that made it possible for me to have books.

I'm also missing my grandmother.  In my younger years, I drove over to see her once a month, when we both lived in South Carolina.  She didn't always approve of my life choices, but there was a bedrock of love between us.

I've found myself thinking of her gardens, her cooking, her sewing. I don't have anything that's like a traditional celebratory mom poem. But "Necessity of Moisture" seems to fit the bill, in terms of celebrating family traditions and love of all sorts. It first appeared in Tar River Poetry and also in my chapbook I Stand Here Shredding Documents.

Necessity of Moisture

His last letter spoke of snow,
the necessity of moisture, the dryness of the soil.
Even though he had not tilled the ground
in more than twenty years, the dirt
still spoke to him. As with an old love,
his connection to the land would never completely cease.

Although she would never farm his way,
his daughter always kept a garden.
Even now, long after she’s let the grass grow
over the backyard once ruled by green
beans, squash, tomatoes, and okra, even now, she shovels
her organic waste back into her compost heap.

I will never garden on even my grandmother’s
small scale, but I save all my kitchen scraps,
mix them with grass clippings, compost
in my non-professional way. I long for her rich, black dirt
as I stick my seedlings in the Florida sand.
We chat every Sunday, exchange rainfall statistics
the way some men might discuss baseball details.
Catlike, I save weather tidbits through the week as a love offering.

Some families develop elaborate gift giving rituals,
a whole language of material love. Others create pet
names, secret personalities, languages no outsider understands.
My family’s secret language lies in the meteorological details
and soil analysis, love as moisture, compost, seedlings.

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