entries for the contest Defining Poetry
For Helen Burak Salopek
Strange how I am mama haunted.
Thirty years after your death
I catch the scent of cigarettes,
their bitter, acrid incense
carries me home to the SouthSide
a room on the second floor
all painful sharp edges removed
The rotten parts of memory
scoured by nature and time
leave a bleached, beautiful carcass.
All my wounds are thin white scars.
I've passed the age when you went mad.
I've passed the age at which you died.
I've passed into middle age
You sat and rocked and stared and smoked
the day JFK was shot,
the Beatles came to Pittsburgh,
my college graduation day.
In the pictures from my wedding
you sit and rock and stare and smoke.
I learned to mother myself
The Magdalene's bones, displayed again,
exude a holy perfume
like the balm of sweet woodsy smoke
censered at your funeral Mass.
Each day I breathe ten thousand times
odors swirl, coil, enter my body.
How is it I smell only you,
Allen Ginsburg's poem "Kaddish"---a tribute to his mother begins with the lines, "strange now to think of you". That is where I started with my poem, also a tribute to my mother. The ending phrase of the portion featured:
in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change's fierce hunger--hair
and teeth--and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
His description of the soul offering itself in response to the inevitability of life spoke deeply to my soul. Like Ginsberg I had a mother who lived with madness. I believe it has made me aware of life's fragility and the need to bring kindness and civility to our world. I believe it has made me a woman that believes in magic----the magic that is inherent in everyday life. All three of this week's featured poets, Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Derek Walcott are abundantly aware of this energy and this magic. I think it is no coincidence that all three poets were/are well-known in their own times and were political activists and often considered to be revolutionaries. Revolutionaries and magicians of the soul.