poem index

By Hand: Lines for Mother's Day


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"I didn't care about the gift. / It was the note I wanted, / the salt from his hand, / the words," admits a woman awaiting a Mother's Day package from her son away at war, in Frances Richey's poem "Letters."

There is no substitute for the intimacy of a handwritten note, no gift as singular as words carefully considered and chosen. The impulse to personalize correspondence is evident in the custom to sign letters by hand, even when the rest is typed.

Like a fingerprint, handwriting can identify its owner, even mood and intention can be revealed in the bends and crosses of letters, hidden in the slant of cursive. In her poem "Consider the Hands that Write This Letter," Aracelis Girmay describes the act of writing: "The left palm pressed flat against the paper, / as it has done before, over my heart, /in peace or reverence / to the sea or some beautiful thing."

Choose meaningful lines from a poem, pick out a blank card, take a quiet moment and a smooth pen, and write with your heart in your hand.



if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)
one.    It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

     —from "if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have"
     by E. E. Cummings

It's like watching your mother sleep,
minutes after you have been conceived,

and her closed eyes say it's all right
to wake alone....

     —from "Harbor Lights" by Mark Doty

My mother would be a falconress,
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

     —from "My Mother Would Be a Falconress" by Robert Duncan

Green sap of Spring in the young wood-a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother, And every song-bird shout awhile for her

     —from "The White Goddess" by Robert Graves

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole...

     —from "Mother o' Mine" by Rudyard Kipling

Like those old pear-shaped Russian dolls that open
at the middle to reveal another and another, down
to the pea-sized, irreducible minim,
may we carry our mothers forth in our bellies.

     —from "The Envelope" by Maxine Kumin

Oh, if instead she'd left to me
The thing she took into the grave!—
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

     —from "The courage that my mother had" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am a tree
Strong limbed and deeply rooted
My fruit is bittersweet
I am your mother

     —from "Trees" by Walter Dean Myers

I lie here now as I once lay
in the crook of her arm, her creature,
and I feel her looking down onto me the way the
maker of a sword gazes at his face in the
steel of the blade

     —from "Why My Mother Made Me" by Sharon Olds

The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of "Mother"...

     —from "To My Mother" by Edgar Allan Poe

I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

     —from "I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone"
     by Rainer Maria Rilke

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,

     —from "Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome"
     by Christina Rossetti

And may you happy live,
  And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
  Great happiness.

     —from "To My Mother" by Christina Rossetti

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness.

     —"Home," from "Poems Done on a Late Night Car"
     by Carl Sandburg

Today I remember
The creator,
The lion-hearted.

     —from "For My Mother" by May Sarton


A woman is her mother
That's the main thing.

     —from "Housewife" by Anne Sexton

They touched earth and grain grew.
They were full of sturdiness and singing.
My grandmothers were strong.

     —from "Lineage" by Margaret Walker

Ah to sing the song of you, my matron mighty!
My sacred one, my mother.

     —from "Delicate Cluster" by Walt Whitman

Unfolded out of the justice of the woman all justice
   is unfolded,
Unfolded out of the sympathy of the woman is all

     —from "Unfolded Out of the Folds" by Walt Whitman

Ma, hear me now, tell me your story
again and again.

     —from "From a Heart of Rice Straw" by Nellie Wong

My mother dandled me and sang,
‘How young it is, how young!'
And made a golden cradle
That on a willow swung.

     —from "The Player Queen" by W. B. Yeats

O what to me my mother's care,
The house where I was safe and warm;
The shadowy blossom of my hair
Will hide us from the bitter storm.

     —from "The Heart of the Woman" by W. B. Yeats