Response to “i see her in my hands”
Note: This is a sestina, a 39-line poem, but the formatting of the blog reconfigured the lines of the poem. The shorter 2- to 3-word lines should be connected to the line prior. I think you'll be able to still understand the poem although the formatting is skewed. FYI: This is in response to an assignment dear Sister gave me earlier today. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this. I'm the closet writer in the family--nevertheless, still a writer. I prefer the avenue of poetry. And with no further ado... I present to you:
yet i see her in my cheekbones and eyes...
I don’t see her in my hands; I see her in my features, most specifically in the brown eyes
I inherited from her. Those who knew her, really knew her, when they see me see a ghost
from the past. Her girlfriends who learned first-hand she was pregnant with me – their faces reflect their memories of her. Just by seeing me. I love that their non-verbals speak with such boldness
and clarity. They don’t see their own transparency. But it’s obvious what they revisit -- their memory
of her as well -- is a pleasant one. I smile at the common statement: “You look just like your mother.”
Long ago, as a youth, I was uncertain how to respond to that statement. Looking like one’s mom
serves as a great compliment, but for a young woman, who still felt in some way responsible, the eyes
too often reflected the anguish, the thoughts, the wonders – the notions of those haunted by memories
of a woman dead too young yet present in my high cheekbones and rich brown eyes. For them, a ghost
of decades past. For me, years pass before I understand human development. With a boldness
unseen, she circled an article on dating in a most recent Seventeen magazine. At 41, I reflect
on how difficult that was to have “the talk” with your 15-year-old daughter as you reflect
on your own life, your own choices. At 15, she would not know she would be a mother
within 3 years, yet she [and dad!] welcomed me to the world 11 days into 18, with a boldness
of spirit. My memories of those early years are filled with tenderness and love; her eyes
comfort me. She slips on the ice going to Fred and Bessie’s, yet her arms guide me to safety. Ghosts
of winters, springs, summers, falls past… they all dance with such ease across the fabric of memory.
It’s Sunday morning in the newly-built house in Gainesville. Orange counters pervade this memory.
I roll biscuit dough flat for cinnamon rolls. I lean in from the bar side as mom, as I reflect,
is across from me on the kitchen side. White flour sifts across the countertop. To this day, this ghost
flits in and out of my psyche as I relive this moment, among many others cherished with my mother
as we grow and live and be. We have such varied remembrances, Casey and I, of this brown-eyed
woman who loved the Beatles, “Love Me Do”, 45s, vacations, and chocolate-covered cherries. A bold
woman, she experienced childbirth, graduation as a wife and parent, factory work. With boldness,
she began a college transcript, relocated, supported her husband’s career, developed new memories
as she established herself as the central pole of support for her young family, the one on whom all eyes
fell, whether we were chasing bats in Thayer or tarantulas in Gainesville. Through her, I reflect
on my childhood of yarn ribbons, banana-flip haircuts, Johnson’s No More Tears, and my mother,
this woman who made sure I made ballet class, learned the step-ball-chain, and discounted any ghosts
that I thought I saw in Grandma’s old house in Sparta. To relieve my fears, she showed me my ghost, the literal yet proverbial coat hanging on the coat-tree at the end of my bed. With a tender boldness, she showed me the tiger stalking outside my window, allaying my childhood nightmares. This mother, this woman whose life in some way was symbolized through red cowgirl boots, held memories
we’ll never know, resources we’ll never tap, intelligence we’ll never learn. Of sixteen years I reflect;
just shy of half of her life. At this stage, it’s almost 1/3 of my life. The years pass before my eyes.
“I see her in my hands… but I lose her in my green eyes” opened a lot of vaulted ghosts
as we were asked to reflect on her, Carolyn Sue Johns Daugherty, an action requiring boldness
as we took a moment to relive memories and praise this woman, this wife, this mother.