Saturday, 21 January 2012

poems for housework


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

My Ma turned 77 this week, a cold week in Winnipeg. I promised to share a couple poems in her name. These are the poems that I learned from her, the music if not every word, as she drew upon her rote-learning youth to gain strength for the challenges of adult living-- housework, paid work, bills, health challenges, cramped circumstance. 

My favourite mental pictures of her are, in the early days, laying a baby to rest (she had eight); giving herself the gift of climbing a telephone pole to mark her birthday, in her early thirties; painting a family tree on the wall of our house in winnipeg, each person presented as a name on an apple; with her toolbelt slung on her hips, single parent worker gal at a convent school in Windsor ON; an elder, thoughtfully telling me all of the gifts that came her way as the result of a series of strokes that re-arranged her life, inside and out.

From my Ma i learned more than any ordinary person needs to know about the Canadian involvement in World War II; i learned about queens, empresses, goddesses, woman activists, and women's history; i learned about independence, pride, self-governance, and being graceful in the face of life's twists, turns, incinerations. I learned to have an open mind, to keep learning, to maintain an inner freedom of (for) self. 

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

One of the poets quoted above died at the age of nineteen, the other, in his late fifties. Ma has outlived the elder poets who inspired her.

Ma's Ma died days before her 95th birthday. I hope longevity will be gifted to my mother, as well.

Posts, poles and flight have often recurred in my poetry, and the music of my parents' favourite songs and poems, and the music (rhythms) of the Catholic mass.  

There is a magic in being a mum, and she shared that with me, as well.

Ma shook me awake, she was the person who woke me up, in the strange stillness of the train

to show me the mountains: when i declared that i did not see any mountains, she asked what i did see: 

people, luggage, piles of lumber. 

What else? she persisted. Sleepy 
annoyed, stating the obvious, i 

piles of coal. 

Ah, she said, 
those are not piles of coal, Joanne. Look, 

they are much bigger, and farther away. Can you see?

Those are mountains.  

photo by Carole Gray, see more photos in "moments" and "four generations"

poetry sources:

invictus ~ iridescent musings ~ 
high flight ~ 
memory ~ shaped


Anonymous said...

thank you Joanne, I remember Ma reciting poems with great theatrics - I have a copy of High Flight on my wall near my alter.
x Carole Gray

Anonymous said...

I also remember the trip, and the mountains. Counting waterfalls. It was a really lovely trip with Ma.
x Carole