“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it is . . . at last, to love it for what it is.” ~Virginia Woolf

Carnations by Zengame (FCC)

                   

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” ~ Honoré de Balzac

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you out there.

My youngest son Brett informed me today that he believes Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to be stupid holidays as they are all about making people spend money . . . Okay . . .

I told him that I agreed that most holidays are greeting card conspiracies for commercialization, but that I was pretty certain that Mother’s Day did not begin that way. And guess what? I was right.

After doing a bit of quick Internet research, this is what I learned about the holiday:

After the Civil War, some attempts were made by women’s peace groups who held meetings attended by mothers whose sons had fought or died in the Civil War. The practice did not extend beyond local level. In 1868, Ann Jarvis (mother of Anna Marie) “created a committee to establish a ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’  to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.” Mother Jarvis had plans to expand the Friendship Day into an annual celebration for mothers, but her death in 1905 prevented her from seeing her dream realized.

Others who were involved in the creation of Mother’s Day include Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day proclamation in 1872, as well as Juliet Calhoun Blakely and her two traveling salesmen sons in 1877. Frank Hering called for a “national day to honor our mothers in 1904.” However, the elder Jarvis’s daughter Anna Marie took up her mother’s cause and is recognized as the creator of the holiday that became national and then international.

Jarvis came up with the idea for a day to honor mothers on the second Sunday in May 1907, which was the first anniversary of her mother’s death. Supposedly, Jarvis persuaded a Philadelphia church to hold a special service for her mother. Subsequently, every church in the country was holding special services. Jarvis even obtained a copyright on the phrase “Mother’s Day” from the Patent Office.

Finally, on On May 9, 1914 after years of letter writing and campaigning by the younger Jarvis, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued the official proclamation declaring the first Mother’s Day as a day for citizens to show the American flag in honor of sons who had died in war.

In an article in Time magazine in 1938, Anna Marie Jarvis is indeed recognized as the creator of the holiday; however, by the time of the article, Jarvis declared that “whenever she thinks of what the flower shops, the candy stores, the telegraph companies have done with her idea, she is disgusted.” (Brett would have probably liked Anna Jarvis.) Jarvis spent most of her remaining money in her continued efforts to fight to keep Mother’s Day from being promoted as nothing more than another occasion for people to buy expensive gifts, and as we now know, she didn’t succeed.

Border Carnation

Interestingly, Eleanor Roosevelt is pointed out in the same article as saying that flowers are “sweet and nice” but that something “ought to be done for the 14,000 mothers who die every year from childbirth.” I think that many of us have forgotten just how dangerous the entire act of becoming a mother used to be. According to Wikipedia (yes, I used Wikipedia; it’s not a thesis for god’s sake), “global maternal mortality in 2008 at 342,900 (down from 526,300 in 1980), of which less than 1 percent occurred in the developed world.”

As a side note, carnations are considered the official flower of the holiday. The younger Jarvis delivered 500 of them in 1908 as carnations had been her mother’s favorite flower. Today, of course, florists push any flower available, and it was florists in the early part of the century who pushed red carnations for women whose mother’s were still living, and white carnations for women who had lost their mothers.

Now, armed with this information, go buy a single carnation for your mother, and instead of candy or perfume, wash her car or her windows. She’ll thank you for it.

More later. Peace.

P.S. Brett, in the end, every celebration becomes a mere bastardized version of its former self. It is up to you to interpret holidays as you wish, not to follow the prescribed path of those who have trodden before you. You will find that when you attach your own meaning and your own memories to something, in the end, what is precious belongs to you. What Mother’s Day means to me is not what is means to you, and it shouldn’t be. For me, it is a bittersweet day fraught with love and sadness. That is mine. What it becomes for you only time will reveal.

Music by Ronan Keating, “This Is Your Song”

                   

Cradle Song

Her grandfather
had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees
in the dense woods behind the house.
Her mother had lain securely in its curves,
and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.
Years later, spring brought her own girl child.
Each night, she would lay the baby in the cradle,
cover her with a soft blanket,
and soothe her with hushed lullabies
whispered in the summer twilight.

With her hand on the knotted wood
worn smooth by time and love,
the woman would rock the bed gently,
and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.
The tranquility of this evening ritual
became the woman’s talisman for her babe
against the dark and unknown.
Until the day arrived
when the girl-child became ill,
and was taken away
to be succored by strangers.
never to return to the enfolding arms
of the woman or the idle cradle.

After that,
the woman would stand by the cradle in the evening,
and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.
Alone in the terrible stillness,
she would gather the blanket in her arms,
and inhale deeply—searching for the essence
that might still cling to the barren cloth.
Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,
her hands seeking warmth
from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.
Once, she found a single, dark hair,
She wrapped it in white tissue and placed it in a box,
along with a small, cloth doll
and a faded red bow she had tied in her daughter’s hair
one fall morning.

Her husband never understood
her need to find solace from things no longer used.
He wanted to remove the cradle,
the source of her pain.
But she asked him to leave it
until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,
until she could imprint all that the child had been,
before time began to fade the image,
and she would be left alone,
with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle
and echoes of soft night songs of love.

Lolita Liwag

Work in Progress

Sometimes Time is the Best Editor

After posting Galway Kinnell’s poem “The Olive-Wood Fire,” I went back into my files. I remember that I had written a poem in third person about a mother and her baby. At the time, I didn’t often try third person perspectives, but this particular poem really seemed to fit third as opposed to first person. I don’t think that I would have been able to write it in first because the subject matter would have been to hard.

By moving into third person, it allowed me to distance myself somewhat from the situation and try to think of it in this mother’s terms, not in my terms. I have revised this poem at least ten times. One of the elements that I was trying to achieve was the correct rhythm, which I still don’t think that I have achieved. The other key thing that I worked on were the line breaks. For example, at one time the first two lines were one line:

Her grandfather had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees 

I changed it back and forth because I just wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until looking at the poem today that I finally realized that if I broke the line at grandfather, then the short a sound in grandfather would play off crafted and hardwood more emphatically. I also realized in rereading the poem that I needed to break the first long stanza into two shorter stanzas: one for the beginning of the ritual and one for the end of the ritual. I pared some superfluous words, which helped to tighten the rhythm.

I’m including the final version (first), and the version which was my last edit preceding this version. I believe more than anything, time and distance have helped me to shape this poem into something tighter and closer to my original intent, and sometimes that is the best way to deal with something that you’ve written that never seems to be a final version.

 I’ll let you decide.

The Poem: Most Recent Version and Version from Two Years Ago

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather 

had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees

in the dense woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Years later, spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a soft blanket,

and soothe her with hushed lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

 

With her hand on the knotted wood

worn smooth by time and love,

the woman would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

The tranquility of this evening ritual

became the woman’s talisman for her babe

against the dark and unknown.

Until the day arrived

when the girl-child became ill,

and was taken away

to be succored by strangers.

never to return to the enfolding arms

of the woman or the idle cradle.

 

After that,

the woman would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

She wrapped it in white tissue and placed it in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a faded red bow she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

Lolita Liwag

January 11, 2009

 

                                                                                                                              

 

Earlier Version:

 

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather had crafted the bed

from the hardwood trees

that grew in the woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Then one spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, carefully,

she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a blanket knit from soft white yarn,

and soothe her with lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

With her hand on the knotted wood worn smooth

by other hands from times past,

she would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

She did this every night

until the time that the baby became ill

and then did not come home again to sleep.

 

After that, she would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

which she wrapped in white tissue and placed in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a red bow that she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

February 25, 2007

 

More later. Peace.