Friday, 7 November 2008

When a Mother Dies Secrets Remain



I have an almost-finished novella lying at the bottom of my desk drawer, and it rarely sees the light of day.
This week I dusted it off and plucked from it one of the occasional poems which lightly pepper the text.
Here Pip, the protagonist or main character, is reflecting on the life of her mother who had died the evening before, leaving a secret.
The poem also serves to sketch a little about Pip herself ...

The musings of Pip
My mother died last night,
Secrets in the palm
of her hand.

She’s gone.
And with her the blue eyes
Which could be icy
Or take on the hue of a summer sky
Or cloud over
Milky weak with memories,
and mystery.
As a child
I’d read her eyes
And know when to steal
To her lap for comfort
Or leave her alone
to her sadness …

She’s gone.

And without living full.

Oh yes, when she was young
I’m told
She lived it full.
Then.
But something happened.
Her secret.
Her secret happened
And she died within.

My mother Selene
Of the beautiful long limbs
And the wheat field hair
Wound round her head.

Of the stutter,
The frightened look
And the deep voice
Sunk to a whisper.

She’s gone.

And with her the recipes,
The way to make apple pie.
Where to buy
Our favourite tea …
Little things that mean too much.

And without being truly loved …
She’s gone.

She didn’t tell me
who my father was …
I asked often enough
But her lips seemed sealed,
The knowledge lying there
A lump in her throat,
Threatening her breath
Should she let it loose.

Selene wasn’t spiteful
Although she must have known
What her secret meant to me ...
I just wanted to know.
That’s all.
So simple.

The secret strangled her spirit,
Sabotaged her life
And cut it short.

Why?

Do I look like him?
In my mirror …
Are those eyes his eyes?
With their curling lashes
And button shape
Are they his legacy?
The nose I’ve always hated
With its aquiline hook
That some call noble
And which I abhor.
Is it his?

I need to know!

I’m a runt …
Can’t reach the hanging straps in buses.
My toothpaste splatters
The mirror
I leave hairs in the basin and
squeezing pimples is my thing.
I shave my legs
But not
My underarms.

I don’t do drugs.
I do pump iron.
And grow vegetables
For their juice.
Each night I run miles
And top off my dinner with
Sticky date pudding
And runny cream.

I’m a woman and proud.
I am a writer —
Freelance.

My mother … tall and golden …
Angular.
Me … small, pale
And round.

The phone:
‘Pip
I’m so sorry
to hear the news.
So sorry …’

‘Aunty!
I’ve wanted to talk …
To ask …
Now she’s gone it seems
So important
Somehow …
I want to know
About my Dad!’

A gasp
And
Silence
At the end of the line.
‘Oh my sweet
I don’t know myself …
It was her secret.’

‘Please Aunty
Please!’

‘Oh dear …
I always felt …
The answer …
Lay in that wretched town.
I’d help if I could.’

Selene had
A strange fascination
For outback towns.
And loved driving.
But there was one place
Where she refused to go.
Is that the key?

©June Saville 2008. Not to be reproduced without express written permission of the author.