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Mother Knows Best: "Wonder as Wander"

Written by

Sharon Olds

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May 10, 2012
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For a long time I believed that no one in my family would know I was a poet if I didn't tell them. After maybe my second book, my mother saw a poem of mine in a magazine. She called me about it, and I said something like what would really work for me would be to keep family and poetry separate, if I could, and I asked her to not read my poems.

I don't know if she did or not, but I was hugely grateful that she didn't talk about them with me. I don't think I ever sent out a poem which I wouldn't be willing for her—on some other planet, in some other life, in some dialogue about the truth—to read. And in some way—pretty self-serving but I hope not merely so—I felt that my poems were for her, too, as her own mother's daughter.

Wonder as Wander

At dusk, on those evenings she does not go out,
my mother potters around her house.
Her daily helpers are gone, there is no one
there, no one to tell what to do,
she wanders, sometimes she talks to herself,
fondly scolding, sometimes she suddenly
throws out her arms and screams—high notes
lying here and there on the carpets
like bodies touched by a downed wire,
she journeys, she quests, she marco-polos through
the gilded gleamy loot-rooms, who is she.
I feel, now, that I do not know her,
and for all my staring, I have not seen her
—like the song she sang, when we were small,
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
how Jesus, the Savior, was born for, to die,
for poor lonely people, like you, and like I
—on the slow evenings alone, when she delays
and delays her supper, walking the familiar
halls past the mirrors and night windows,
I wonder if my mother is tasting a life
beyond this life—not heaven, her late
beloved is absent, her father absent,
and her staff is absent, maybe this is earth
alone, as she had not experienced it,
as if she is one of the poor lonely people,
as if she is born to die. I hold fast
to the thought of her, wandering in her house,
a luna moth in a chambered cage.
Fifty years ago, I'd squat in her
garden, with her Red Queens, and try
to sense the flyways of the fairies as they kept
the pollen flowing on its local paths,
and our breaths on their course of puffs—they kept
our eyes wide with seeing what we
could see, and not seeing what we could not see

collected in

The poets in this collection present poems about their mothers and dis...