Friday, May 13, 2011

I Wish I'd Written This

Have you ever read a poem and just wagged your head at wishing you had written that piece?  Happens to me all the time.  So, Robb said I could start sharing some of my favorite head-waggers with you all.  Feel free to comment on what you like (or don't like) about these poems (to be posted on Fridays).  I hope your heads wag as often as mine.

Since Sunday was Mother's Day in the U.S., how about we start off with my favorite Mama poem.

I have no answer to the blank inequity
of a four-year-old dying of cancer.
I saw her on TV and wept
with my mouth full of meatloaf.

I constantly flash on disasters now;
red lights shout Warning. Danger.
everywhere I look.
I buckle him in, but what if a car
with a grille like a sharkbite
roared up out of the road?
I feed him square meals,
but what if the fist of his heart
should simply fall open?
I carried him safely
as long as I could,
but now he's a runaway
on the dangerous highway.
Warning. Danger.
I've started to pray.

But the dangerous highway
curves through blue evenings
when I hold his yielding hand
and snip his minuscule nails
with my vicious-looking scissors.
I carry him around
like an egg in a spoon,
and I remember a porcelain fawn,
a best friend's trust,
my broken faith in myself.
It's not my grace that keeps me erect
as the sidewalk clatters downhill
under my rollerskate wheels.

Sometimes I lie awake
troubled by this thought:
It's not so simple to give a child birth;
you also have to give it death,
the jealous fairy's christening gift.

I've always pictured my own death
as a closed door,
a black room,
a breathless leap from the mountaintop
with time to throw out my arms, lift my head,
and see, in the instant my heart stops,
a whole galaxy of blue.
I imagined I'd forget,
in the cessation of feeling,
while the guilt of my lifetime floated away
like a nylon nightgown,
and that I'd fall into clean, fresh forgiveness.

Ah, but the death I've given away
is more mine than the one I've kept:
from my hands the poisoned apple,
from my bow the mistletoe dart.

Then I think of Mama,
her bountiful breasts.
When I was a child, I really swear,
Mama's kisses could heal.
I remember her promise,
and whisper it over my sweet son's sleep:

     When you float to the bottom, child,
     like a mote down a sunbeam,
     you'll see me from a trillion miles away:
     my eyes looking up to you,
     my arms outstretched for you like night.

From Mama's Promises, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1985 by Marilyn Nelson.

Click on the title to go to's posting of Mama's Promise.  Click on the poet's name to learn more about Marilyn Nelson.


  1. oh thank you for sharing this wonderful poem, Dan. (she says, wagging her head.) thank you.

  2. I did. I wagged my head. I wished I had written it. This is one of the best and truest poems I have ever read. Thanks for posting it, Danny! I totally love it. It inspires.

  3. Is that last line not the epitome of maternal love? Wondrous! Thanks for sharing this, Danny!

  4. I wagged, simply for having read it, thankful for the opportunity.

  5. Wow such a touching and eloquently written poem.


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