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.
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.


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 —

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

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

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

‘Please Aunty

‘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.


  1. Gosh I loved that June. Secrets. I dont like them. Its funny though I discovered a few of my grandmother's secrets by chance and in one sense I felt so sorry that she felt she could never tell anyone and two that somehow I had invaded her privacy by finding out (accidentally). My grandmother (Des' mother) meant the world to me. She was my best friend and I can say that without a doubt. I used to talk to her a lot about her life but there were some things she glossed over and left me very curious about. I dont think we have the same secrets now so much. We tell everything to each other - parents and children it seems. In fact I now tell my daughter I dont want to hear it all - he he.

    You must dust off that novella and give us more I truly loved it so. Your writing always makes me think of my own life and brings back memories. So it touches me and I connect with your writing and thats thats a good sign isn it? Have a great weekend June and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Great poem, I think I may like your main character. She has a certain feel to her, that is comfortable and familiar. The poem about her mothers secret, that left her wanting is telling itself. Secrets can be so interesting when they are not your own. For some reason though when a person keeps their own secrets, it can be so terribly damaging.

    I agree with Lilly, finish that novel and give us more.

  3. Thanks Lilly
    I don't like secrets in my own life but they're great in literature.
    I smirked with remembering when you mentioned about not wanting to know everything from your daughter ...
    What do you think about me serialising the novella on the blog. Would it work I wonder? We'd soon find out ...
    Doing it that way would give me time to finish it perhaps.

  4. And thanks to you Eric - I really appreciate your opinion.
    Do you think I could serialise it?
    Pip is familiar in some respects - all of us spatter the bathroom mirror at some time ...

  5. I'm intrigued by the story. And its such a coincidence that I'm also working on a short story whose protagonist name is also Pip although it's a 'he'.

    I like the character backdrop and the choice of words you give to describe the characters. But I think you should get rid of some descriptions of the cast just to speed things along especially when you mention the 'secret'. The stuff about what the mom and daughter (though I also like them) should either be put in the beginning or deleted so that the reader is pulled further in the story.

    That's just my opinion though. :D

    Serialising might be a good idea. I like reading your work especially this poem.

  6. I can relate to your poem in many ways, June. There has, unfortunately, been too many secrets in my family.

    Your poem brought some really powerful feeling. That's a sign of a great writer! I hope to see more of the novella.

  7. Thanks for the feedback Kate. How's it going over there in China?
    I can see you may be a little puzzled about the form of the verse ... As you will notice, it's a short poem which is part of a prose novella. I have used it to drive the plot and provide information/description about the character in quick time, thus to 'speed things along' as you suggest.
    It's hard when something isn't presented in context.
    Maybe we can pull it apart again when/if I do serialise the novella. I'd like that.

  8. Jeannie
    I really enjoy the fact that you like the poem. I don't know about 'the great writer' though. Although I do think I'm okay.
    I think secrets are wonderful in many contexts, as I said above. And destructive in others.
    I even suggested to my daughter that she create a little hidey hole demonstration garden in her garden centre and put a sign in the area saying 'Secret Garden' and see what would happen. People couldn't resist themselves!
    I think we're all sticky beaks at heart.

  9. Hey June! It's getting chilly here in China and so far no MILK incident. LOL. :)

    Everyone's excited at the outcome of the recent US election.

    Yeah, it's probably because the work is not presented in its entirety so we're in the dark on some things. Perhaps if you do serialize it we can see finally how things unfold and see how all the pieces fit. Tomorrow afternoon -Beijing time (there's only a few hours difference between us, right?) I'm going to post one of my short stories. I'd like your feedback on it.

  10. Yes, June, I think you should definitely serialize the novel. Then, when I need to read something I can come over and take a look at your novel. Loved the poem. When my niece did our family history, we found out a great, great, great grandmother was pregnant when she got married. Now, that was a secret back then!

  11. Judy
    I could tell exactly the same story about a relative of that vintage.
    I think I will look at the finishing the novella and serialising it. May take a little while as although only the end is missing it's a matter of marrying a new one into the plot. I really don't like the way the end is now.

  12. The title “When Mothers Die Secrets Remain” opened up a special place in my soul. This is such a poignant title and the words will remain with me. Thank you for sharing your writing with your followers and all who are lucky enough to find your sites.


  13. Welcome A.J.
    Mums are so special they simply must ring bells for us all.
    Thanks for the kind words.

  14. Hi June,
    I would love to read the rest. Definitely put it on your blog. You’re outstanding. I’ve really enjoyed reading everything you shown so far.

    Here’s a thought in reference to secrets (I love to go off on these tangents) - Although we all say we hate secrets, we all have them if we’re alive and participate in the process of living. To say we don’t is just a lie. Secrets are just hurtful memories–maybe to hurtful to share or re-live by telling.

    And there is an intriguing mystic about value of knowing secrets. To frequently when revealed they change lives for the worse-not the better.

    All that said- who the heck is Pip’s father?!?!? We need to know!


  15. Ha! I've whet your appetite Vikki. Good.
    In some ways that's what I'm deciding at the moment - just who IS Pip's father? The author's joy - to be able to change her mind at will.
    Same as an artist's work eh?
    Alter your creation at a whim.
    Secrets - yes there are so many sides to them - all of them intriguing.

  16. Vikki again:
    Thanks so much for the praise - my cheeks are pink!

  17. That's fantastic June! What an intriguing story and your writing is stellar. When my darling hubby's mom passed away this past September, we found out secrets... an affair with a Priest for one. =) This is a rich topic! Keep going! Love it!

  18. Thanks for the rosy words ADLIBBY - keeps me writing!
    It is a rich topic - much richer than most would imagine - I imagine!
    Have you read the novel itself? Or just the poem in this post? I'd be interested to know what you think of the rest. Episode 7 coming up soon.


Thanks for leaving a comment. Its good to know who is having a peek! I will certainly send a comment in reply.

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Cheers June