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Mother Knows Best: Song of Roland

Written by

Mark Jarman
Contributor Page

Year

2014

This poem is based on a story my mother told me just over 10 years ago about a cousin of hers named Roland whom I had never heard of. She told me the story out of the blue one day when I was driving her to lunch after church. The details about Charlemagne's Paladin Roland, hero of the French epic, Song of Roland, I added later. After I shared the poem with my mother, she told the story of her cousin Roland many times. She knew it was a good story, and I assured her it was a good story. I have never known what she thought of the poem itself, but it has been many years since I knew what my mother thought of what I wrote. In this case, we have both continued to take pleasure in the story of her cousin and the humor and ultimate sadness of its twists and turns. I enjoy thinking of my mother, who has by now forgotten a lot, at about 9 or 10 years old with this older cousin, one of the many she had in her large extended family, who made that day so memorable to her.


Song of Roland

Roland was a Paladin of Charlemagne,
And he was my mother’s cousin.  The Paladin
Served Charlemagne and died, blowing his horn.
The cousin spent a day with her at the fair
Over sixty years ago.  The great Paladin
Enjoys an epic named after him.
The cousin is remembered as a big kid
Who never grew up.  His first wife left him,
Taking only the pillows from the pool furniture.
Roland the epic hero was betrayed
By a fellow Paladin.  Roland the cousin bought
A box of face powder for his younger cousin,
And on the octopus, which they had ridden
So often the owner let them ride for free,
He convinced her to open up the box.
Roland’s horn resounds through ages
Of high school lit classes.  There’s a cloud
The carnie thinks is an explosion and stops
His ride, and banishes the powdered laughing children,
Roland, the young hero, and my mother
Creamy with dust in a new blue coat.
Roland's song comes down from the Pyrenees.
His namesake went back to school, after his wife left,
Became a mining engineer, worked in North Dakota,
Married again, learned after the death of his parents
He’d been adopted, was devastated, and died
In his late 30s of congenital heart failure.  He lives on, though.
An old woman remembers that day at the fair
And as much of his life and fate as any of us
Is likely to have immortalized in song.



Mark Jarman under a pink umbrella holding a cat, with Bo Dee JarmanPoem from Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2011 by Mark Jarman. Reprinted with permission of Sarabande Books. All rights reserved.